Night Lab: The Science of Extinction

If you can imagine it, mammoths, camels, saber-toothed cats and massive ground sloths once walked the ground that has become Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Walking down Michigan Avenue today, you’d never guess that these huge creatures foraged on the marsh land now buried beneath city’s streets.  Just as the first humans settled the Americas, these Ice Age giants vanished forever.  New research on these extinctions offers insights for modern conservation – understanding the demise of the mastodon may help us create strategies to protect today’s endangered elephants, rhinos, tigers and wolves.

Some conservation biologists take the argument further: they now suggest that in some cases, deliberately introducing exotic animals may be critical to restoring damaged ecosystems.  Should we strive to replicate the animal populations found by the first Europeans as they colonized the globe, as traditional conservation efforts assume?  Or should we instead work to rebuild whole ecosystems, using substitutes to fill niches left empty by the top predators and large herbivores humans have driven to extinction?  Join us to find out about what science can tell us about our Earth’s past and future at Night Lab, Chicago’s science series for adults, for a discussion with science writer Sharon Levy, author of Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals.

Schubas (3159 N. Southport)
May 1, 2011
7-9 PM
21+
Free.
Red Line to Belmont

About Once and Future Giants:

In Once and Future Giants, science writer Sharon Levy digs through the evidence surrounding Pleistocene large animal (“megafauna”) extinction events worldwide, showing that understanding this history-and our part in it-is crucial for protecting the elephants, polar bears, and other great creatures at risk today. These surviving relatives of the Ice Age beasts now face an intensified replay of that great die-off, as our species usurps the planet’s last wild places while driving a warming trend more extreme than any in mammalian history.  Deftly navigating competing theories and emerging evidence, Once and Future Giants examines the extent of human influence on megafauna extinctions past and present, and explores innovative conservation efforts around the globe. The key to modern-day conservation, Levy suggests, may lie fossilized right under our feet.

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