Scientists have created a new estimate for the rate by which the number of species of vertebrates on the planet are declining to assess the risk of extinction of man. The numbers suggest that decline is now happening at a faster rate than any other time since the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago.
Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, US, is part of the team of researchers who published the study that released these shocking figures. He suggests that it is without doubt that we are in the 6th large mass extinction event since the development of life on Earth. He also adds, that the situation is worse than previous mass extinctions because we have created the event ourselves.
Many biologists have studied the rate at which the decline in species is happening, but there have been many doubters due to the stability of the data. With the latest data, researchers have compared the current extinction rate with the underlying rate that we would naturally expect species to disappear, to determine whether we are in the middle of a mass extinction event. They have looked at clearly verified data and also fossil records to establish the current rate of extinction is running at twice the speed of previous estimate. It should be added that these new figures are conservative too.
Speed of decline
The rate at which the species are being wiped out is 15-100 X quicker than they would be using the underlying data. The rate of specie loss is now running at the same rate as when the dinosaurs died out. The ‘underlying data’ would suggest there should have been 9 extinctions within vertebrates since 1900, but the actual figure is 468. At the current rate of decline it is expected that 26% of all mammals will be wiped out and 41% of amphibian species.
The risk of a shift in biodiversity
Issues that have a very high profile at the moment like the loss of pollinators like the honey bee will create a massive change in biodiversity and put humans at risk. A researcher from the Universidad Autónoma de México, said that if we allow the continued decline it could take the planet millions of years to adjust and it is likely that humans would disappear during the earlier stages.
Main man made threats
The team also declared the main threats to species are not meteorite strikes or volcanic eruptions but man made processes like:
- Climate change and ocean acidification led by carbon emissions
- The distribution of toxins that change and poison ecosystems – aluminum was recently found to be present in bees
- The clearing of land for farming, logging and development of human dwellings.
- Invasive species being introduced
The research team expressed how the forecasts were very much an under estimate of the extinction crisis. We can change our behavior to affect the rate of extinction, but it is very much in our hands.