The Sixth Extinction


Elizabeth Kolbert

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The Sixth Extinction Characters

Charles Darwin

Famous English biologist and naturalist whose theory of natural selection formed the basis for modern evolutionary biology. At many points, Kolbert cites Darwin’s ideas (particularly the notion that life is a constant competition for resources)… read analysis of Charles Darwin

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Late 18th and early 19th century naturalist who proposed an early, largely debunked version of the theory of evolution based on the idea that individual animals changed based on what parts of their body they… read analysis of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Minor Characters
Louis Agassiz
19th century student of Georges Cuvier, who first proposed the now-common theory of “ice ages.”
John Alroy
Scientist who conducted simulations to study early humans’ ability to wipe out large mammal species.
Luis Alvarez
Father of Walter Alvarez, and, with Walter, co-author of an influential paper arguing that an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.
Walter Alvarez
Geologist who, along with his father, Luis Alvarez, first proposed the influential theory that an asteroid caused the mass-extinction of the dinosaurs.
Highly influential ancient Greek scientist and polymath who nevertheless failed to take extinction into account when writing about animals.
Ken Caldeira
Scientist whose research focuses on the pH (acidity) of seawater.
Captain James Cook
18th century English explorer who sailed to Australia and was probably the first European to see the famous Great Barrier Reef.
Maria Cristina Buia
Marine biologist who researches the biodiversity of waters surrounding Castello Aragonese, a small island in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Mario Cohn-Haft
Ornithologist who specializes in birdsong.
Paul Crutzen
The scientist who coined the term, “Anthropocene,” referring to the modern, human era of global history.
Georges Cuvier
Important late 18th and early 19th century biologist who pioneered the theory of extinction, and helped spark an international “craze” for fossils and paleontology.
Barbara Durrant
Reproductive physiologist who specialized in the near-extinct Hawaiian crow.
Charles Elton
Scientist who, in the 1950s, pioneered the study of invasive species.
Terry Erwin
Entomologist who estimated that rainforest contained about 30 million arthropod species.
Kenneth Feeley
A student of Miles Silman.
Edgardo Griffith
The director of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Panama, and an expert in frogs.
Jason Hall-Spencer
Marine biologist who conducts research in the waters surrounding Castello Aragonese, a small island in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Al Hicks
Biologist who researches bats in the New England area.
Thomas Jefferson
American founding father and noted fossil collector.
Thomas Kuhn
Important science historian who pioneered the theory that the history of human understanding can be organized into discrete “paradigm shifts.”
Neil Landman
Paleontologist who specializes in the ammonite (a prehistoric, nautilus-like creature).
Charles le Moyne, Baron Longueuil
French aristocrat who discovered some of the earliest mastodon fossils.
Carl Linnaeus
Influential 18th century biologist who pioneered the modern system of species taxonomy, yet failed to consider the possibility of extinction.
Louis XV
Early 18th century French monarch who collected fossils.
Tom Lovejoy
Founder of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, or BDFFP.
Charles Lyell
Influential British geologist who popularized the idea of extinction as a slow, gradual process.
Alfred Newton
English naturalist who, along with John Wooley, tried to track down the legendary great auk in Iceland, and spent the remainder of his adult life pioneering the field of wildlife conservation.
Svante Pääbo
Director of the department of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig.
Charles Willson Peale
Founder of the Philadelphia Natural History Museum.
Terri Roth
A conservationist who specializes in the rhinoceros.
Miles Silman
A professor at Wake Forest University, and an important forest ecologist who conducts research in the tropical rainforests of South America.
Pascal Tassy
The director of the Paris Museum of Natural History.
William Whewell
President of the London Geological Society, and coiner of the term “catastrophist,” describing a scientist who believes that the history of the planet is marked with periodic global catastrophes that cause mass-extinction.
John Wooley
English naturalist who, along with Alfred Newton, tried to track down the legendary great auk in Iceland.
Jan Zalasiewicz
Important stratigrapher (scientist who studies different eras of planetary history) who popularized the term “Anthropocene,” which refers to the modern human era of global history.