Estimating co-extinction threats in terrestrial ecosystems

Seamus Doherty, Frédérik Saltré, John Llewelyn, Giovanni Strona, Stephen E. Williams, Corey J. A. Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


The biosphere is changing rapidly due to human endeavour. Because ecological communities underlie networks of interacting species, changes that directly affect some species can have indirect effects on others. Accurate tools to predict these direct and indirect effects are therefore required to guide conservation strategies. However, most extinction-risk studies only consider the direct effects of global change—such as predicting which species will breach their thermal limits under different warming scenarios—with predictions of trophic cascades and co-extinction risks remaining mostly speculative. To predict the potential indirect effects of primary extinctions, data describing community interactions and network modelling can estimate how extinctions cascade through communities. While theoretical studies have demonstrated the usefulness of models in predicting how communities react to threats like climate change, few have applied such methods to real-world communities. This gap partly reflects challenges in constructing trophic network models of real-world food webs, highlighting the need to develop approaches for quantifying co-extinction risk more accurately. We propose a framework for constructing ecological network models representing real-world food webs in terrestrial ecosystems and subjecting these models to co-extinction scenarios triggered by probable future environmental perturbations. Adopting our framework will improve estimates of how environmental perturbations affect whole ecological communities. Identifying species at risk of co-extinction (or those that might trigger co-extinctions) will also guide conservation interventions aiming to reduce the probability of co-extinction cascades and additional species losses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5122-5138
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number18
Early online date29 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • climate change
  • co-extinctions
  • conservation
  • ecological network models
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • trophic cascades


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