Nancy Knowlton

Nancy Knowlton holds the Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. A specialist on coral reefs, she was the founding director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Recent Articles

Marine Biodiversity in Jeopardy

The attrition of the world's coral reefs signals far broader and graver problems.

News about ocean ecosystems is almost without exception grim. Collapsing fisheries, expanding dead zones, and the prospect of ever warmer and more acidic seas makes optimism a tough sell. When sounding the alarm bells, marine conservation scientists have focused primarily on the loss of "ecosystem services" -- things like food, shoreline protection, and tourist-attracting seascapes -- that translate into direct economic benefits for humankind. The fate of the basic building blocks of marine ecosystems, namely the many species that together make up the assemblages that provide those services, is far less often discussed. This stands in contrast to the land, where worries about a sixth mass extinction associated with habitat destruction often underpin conservation concerns. To the public, mass extinction conjures up the demise of the dinosaurs due to a killer asteroid, but past cataclysms can be seen just as clearly in the records of marine species of clams, corals, crinoids,...