Whimper Or A Bang

We really hadn't been looking at the record in enough detail to pick this extinction up, and we weren't disposed to look at it as a catastrophe.' Leo Hickey

1t is easy to say that 70 percent of all living species became extinct at the K-T boundary, but what does it really mean? Who, and how many, died? Remember that with the exception of species, the taxo-nomic groupings established by biologists and paleontologists have no inherent meaning—they are just one of many ways of organizing flora and fauna. Phyla, families, groups, and genera do not die; they are artificial constructs of the human mind. Only living individuals die. How many have to do so before too few breeding pairs (if that is the way they do it) are left to allow a species to survive? Although we cannot be sure of the answer, the family hamster provides a familiar (too familiar?) example. David Carlisle has stated that as far as we know, "every golden hamster now alive is descended from a single pregnant female trapped in Syria early in this century."2 In the case of the ubiquitous hamster, survival did not even require a pair! Try to imagine, if you are willing, what it would take to exterminate Homo sapiens. Only a few couples surviving in caves or in remote regions near the poles might carry us through, to begin again, as in Walter Miller's classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz? To truly eliminate our species, would not nearly every human being on earth have to die?

This repugnant thought experiment and the hamster example may lend some credibility to Carlisle's claim that 99.99 percent of all individuals of every species alive before the K-T boundary— including individuals of the species that survived—died in the K-T

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