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De-extinction and the Community of Being

Extinction deeply colors the way we think about conservation and the role of humans in nature. It is easy to overlook how recently, in fact, it has entered our consciousness. Only in the last two centuries has science sought to critically study life’s origins, development, and diversification. Only in the last several generations have we identified and calibrated life’s five major extinction events and speculated on their causes and effects. And only in recent decades have we come to appreciate the still-unfolding fate of life’s diversity under the increasing influence of humanity.

The story of extinction has continually changed as this monumental process of interdisciplinary synthesis and imagination has unfolded. Geology, paleontology, taxonomy, biogeography, and evolutionary biology have allowed us to comprehend the deep temporal and broad spatial dynamics of the extinction story. Archaeology, cultural anthropology, and environmental and economic history have illuminated the role of humans in altering the trajectory of species, landscapes, and ecosystems over the millennia. Ecology, genetics, population biology, and conservation biology have revealed the more recent patterns in life’s vulnerability and resilience. As a phenomenon, extinction is as old as life itself. As a story shaping our consciousness, values, and intentions, it is still new. And it is uncomfortable.

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