UH Hilo marine scientist Matthew Knope and his colleagues have determined the current biodiversity crisis is unlike any the planet has ever experienced.
On the heels of President Barack Obama’s 2016 announcement to quadruple the size of the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Assistant Professor Matthew Knope is researching the emerging biodiversity crisis in the world’s oceans.
By comparing current data with information on ancient extinctions, Knope and his colleagues determined the potential for future mass extinction could rival the largest mass extinctions in the past and that the current biodiversity crisis is unlike any the planet has ever experienced.
“We see that large animals are particularly at risk of extinction today, and we’ve never seen that pattern at any point in any of the previous big five mass extinctions,” says Knope.
The research indicates that human fishing and hunting are currently the dominant threats to these marine animals. Fisheries generally target larger species for consumption first and then move down the food web to smaller ones. Knope suggests that only a dramatic shift in the business-as-usual course for marine management can head off a mass extinction whose impact could rival the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
“Big animals tend to be at the top of ecological food webs,” explains Knope. “They also tend to be very important in terms of the cycling of nutrients through the ocean waters and in terms of the mixing of the sediments at the bottom of the sea floor.”
Knope and his colleagues hope that President Obama’s move to dramatically expand Papāhanaumokuākea may provide the kind of positive model for future conservation actions needed to curtail this pending mass extinction.
“Certainly seems that approaches like President Barack Obama’s expansion of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument will provide key critical habitat for these large animals to recover,” Knope says.
Matthew Knope Bio
Matthew Knope is a new assistant professor of biology at UH Hilo. Previously, he was an assistant professor of ecology and field biology at the University of San Francisco.
Knope’s primary research topics are related to the evolutionary ecology of both marine and terrestrial organisms in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere. In addition, he is strongly motivated to develop and share innovative teaching methods in the sciences.
He received his bachelor of science in marine biology with honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz, master of science in marine biology from San Francisco State University, and doctor of philosophy in biology from Stanford University. At Stanford he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Biology, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, and a lecturer in the Department of Biology.