Many of us can point to a time in our lives that influenced what we might do when we grew up. For me, it began with a box of 430-million-year-old fossils that my parents collected when they lived in Wisconsin. I was around five years old when they first shared them with me and was absolutely fascinated with those vestiges of past worlds. Worlds that flourished with life, that were decidedly devoid of people and that, despite all their vigor, eventually disappeared.
Those early impressions held tight and I went on to earn degrees in geology and paleontology. I was as equally obsessed with learning about the ecosystems of those past worlds, as I was about unraveling the mysteries behind their extinctions. How did it come to be that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct? And is there a reason to expect a different fate for the 0.1% of species living today?