Evolved for extinction: The cost and conservation implications of specialization in hammerhead sharks

Austin J. Gallagher, Neil Hammerschlag, David S. Shiffman, Sean T. Giery

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The interactions between the evolutionary history of species and contemporary changes in their environment can result in both positive and negative outcomes for fitness and survival. Sharks are one the oldest groups of all extant vertebrates but, today, are among the most threatened globally, primarily because of destructive fishing practices. Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrnidae) exhibit extremely specialized traits and complex behaviors that have increased their vulnerability to human exploitation, which impedes conservation efforts. By bringing together published data on aspects of hammerhead shark phylogeny, morphology, biology, physiology, and ecology, we argue that the same novel adaptations that have historically contributed to evolutionary success have become maladaptive under current levels and modes of exploitation. Therefore, we suggest that future management be made in light of - rather than in spite of - the unique evolutionary and ecological traits possessed by hammerhead sharks, because similar patterns are threatening other taxa with high extinction risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-624
Number of pages6
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • apex predator
  • evolution
  • specialization
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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