Ross D. E. MacPhee, Curator and Chairman of Mammology, AMNH
Michael J. Novacek, Senior Vice-President and Provost, AMNH
As you know from the program, this day's
talks will be concerned with extinctions in the past tense --
loses that have occurred in the near to distant past, sometimes
with and sometimes possibly without any evidence of human presence
and participation. Tomorrow's presentations will be devoted to
the theme of loss, now in the future tense, and will be concerned
with what we may expect to see happen to life's diversity from
the micro- to the macro- level in the next millennium.
Many conferences have been held on the topic
of species' endangerment and extinction. However it is rare that
workers in fields as disparate as paleontology and public policy
and conservation biology have the opportunity to come together
and to see what they have to say to each other. We may ask, Why?
Is the past, in fact, a key to the present and to the future?
Can we, by examining ancient extinctions, gain some perspective
on extinctions that may be occurring now? Or are past extinctions
irrelevant to present-day concerns, because modern humans and
their works are a threat like no other, never paralleled in the
history of the planet? Or should we be judicious and prudent,
and recognize that the truth lies somewhere between George Santayana,
who said: Those who cannot remember the past are destined to
repeat it; and Henry Ford who said that history is bunk?
I'm now going to turn the podium over to
our Vice-President and Provost, Michael Novacek, who will have
some introductory comments. At the close of Michael's comments,
I will be telling you what the ground rules are for the symposium
this morning. Thank you.
Good morning, everybody. My pleasure and my charge is simply to welcome
you here on behalf of President Ellen Futter, Anne Eristoff, Chairman of
the Board of Trustees, and the Trustees of the Museum, to the American
Museum for our spring symposium, sponsored by the Center for Biodiversity
and Conservation, through the generous support of The Starr Foundation
for this symposium and other research activities.
This symposium, as Ross said, marks an important
time for us, an important event. It is a gathering, an international
gathering of scientists that focus on the role that humans
have played in the extinction process -- not just now, but for
the whole period that modern humans have been on the planet.
And I should point out, modesty may prevent Ross from noting that
he is also the curator in charge and the source for our dazzling,
important and powerful exhibit upstairs -- which you are welcome
to -- a special exhibition called "Endangered: Exploring
a World at Risk." This symposium is held in conjunction
with that exhibit.
The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation
is a relatively new program here at the American Museum. It was
started in 1993. Francesca Grifo is the Director of the Center,
as Ross mentioned, and also co-organizer of this symposium. The
reason for developing the Center is, of course, this is a museum,
like related institutions, profoundly devoted to sciences that
are relevant to questions about the status of this planet, the
future of this planet, the application of science in trying to
solve some of the enormous problems we have with the changing
environment. And we felt we needed some kind of coordinating
link, a Center whose mission, as stated in the materials connected
with this symposium, is to "enhance the use of rigorous scientific
data to mitigate critical threats to global biodiversity."
And in the spirit of that mission, the Center's function as a
convenor is what you see here in a spring symposium, which we
plan to hold regularly -- either at this or another time of the
year -- on topics that are profoundly important to the environment.
And with that I'll turn the podium back
over to Ross MacPhee, who'll give you an outline of this morning's
Thank you very much, Michael.
One of the great things about working at a place like this is
that we have such a number, a large number, of people -- both
in terms of employees of the Museum, research associates, people
that we work with and interact with -- who are captivated by the
same kinds of questions. And, as a result of that, there's an
immense amount of cross-fertilization, evidence of which you'll
I'm going to describe now very quickly how
I would like the symposium to run, to maximize participation from
the audience. That's one of the purposes here. Our primary purpose
was to bring together a panel of experts -- people who are acknowledged
leaders -- in trying to understand how past extinctions occurred
and their relevancy for understanding current and future extinctions.
Their purpose today will be to share information with each other
and with all of us as a group.
To that end, we're going to have two discussion
periods, each a half-hour in length, at the end of each half-day
session; and this will be largely, although not completely, devoted
to the deliberations of the experts.
There will be two kinds of opportunities
for the audience to challenge or question the experts, to interact
with them concerning matters arising from their talks. The first
will be at the end of each presentation. Each presentation is
slated for half an hour. I've asked the participants to leave
five minutes at the end, and we will call for questions. What
I would like you to do, if you are interested in asking a question
at that point, is to come down to the microphone that is in the
aisle here and speak into it, so that everyone can, in fact, hear
The question period, the introduction of
the speakers and other matters will be in charge of the two moderators.
This morning's moderator is Dr. David Hurst Thomas from the Museum's
Department of Anthropology. This afternoon's moderator will be
Dr. Joel Cracraft, from the Department of Ornithology. They will
be introducing the speakers, their titles. There is bibliographical
and biographical information in the abstract book; and, of course,
if you are interested in knowing more about the people that are
speaking, that's the first place to look.
I'm going to ask that, in the question periods
at the end of each talk, that your questions concern matters of
clarification or definition, rather than matters requiring more
elaborate answers. If you have such questions -- ones that will
require a large amount of thoughtful speaking -- I'm asking you
to write those out on one of the 3-x-5 cards that
was in your registration kit. We will have people from the CBC
coming around collecting these from time to time. They'll be
collated, and we will try to deal with as many as possible, time
permitting, during the discussion period at the end of the half-day.
At the end of the last talk this morning,
and likewise this afternoon, I'm asking all of that morning's
or afternoon's speakers to come up to the front and to seat themselves
here. This will be their opportunity to start talking with each
other, taking up the big questions. The moderator will be in
charge of making sure that the discussion flows -- and, toward
the end of that period, we will make an effort to take up any
questions that come in on the cards. And, in doing so, as you
write these out, please frame your questions to specific speakers.
That will ease what we're trying to accomplish.
The last thing I want to say is in relation
to the plenary session tonight. Dr. Stuart Pimm will be giving
that talk. It will begin sharp at 7 o'clock and will run approximately
45 minutes, allowing time for questions. Immediately thereafter
there will be a reception, to which you are all invited, for our
speaker, Dr. Pimm, and for other participants. This will be held
in the Hall of Amphibians and Reptiles on the Museum's third floor,
immediately adjacent to the "Endangered" exhibition, which will
be open the entire evening, from 5 o'clock onwards, at the end
of the Museum's regular hours, and you can visit at any time.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you
very much for coming. I'm really looking forward to today, and
I hope you are, as well. I'm now going to introduce David Hurst
Thomas, who will take over as moderator.
Now, as Ross said, bibliographic information
and biographical information is provided on each speaker, so I'm
going to be very brief in introducing the various papers. It's
my extreme pleasure to introduce our first speaker today, Dr.
Paul S. Martin, University of Arizona, whose title is "Prehistoric
Overkill: Four Decades of Discovery and Debate."