A Sixth Mass Extinction?

Jul 1, 2015 By Ananke, Young Editor
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Our planet boasts an enormous variety of species. Poisonous frogs, sea turtles, tiny sparrows—the list goes on and on!

According to a 2011 study, humans are only one of 8.7 million species that all share our planet Earth. But despite the massive diversity of life we enjoy today, animal extinction rates are skyrocketing.

For many scientists who are investigating this matter, the conclusion is unanimous: our planet is rapidly approaching its sixth mass extinction, and humans are one of the main causes.

Gone Like The Dinosaurs!

A mass extinction is exactly what it sounds like: an event when millions of animals suddenly die in a relatively short period of time.

Usually, a mass extinction occurs over a period of several years following a huge natural disaster, such as a meteor or volcanic eruption. This, in turn, sets off a chain of events that eventually wipes out most life forms. For example, it is widely acknowledged that the last mass extinction (now called the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction) happened about 65 million years ago when a series of asteroids and volcanic eruptions killed the dinosaurs.

However, unlike previous mass extinctions, this one is caused by human threats to wildlife. Habitat destruction, poaching, and global warming are just as detrimental to our fragile ecosystems as any natural disaster. Poaching of endangered wildlife for rare and expensive materials threatens populations such as African elephants, who are valued because of their ivory tusks. Countless animals lose their homes to deforestation as an area of a rainforest the size of a football field is cleared out each second.

Recent research suggests that 477 vertebrate species have gone extinct since 1900 including the Emperor Rat, Desert Kangaroo, Yangtze River Dolphin, and the South China Tiger. If humans were removed from the picture, only 9 species should have gone extinct in the same amount of time!

A Scientific Conclusion

In order to confirm the impending mass extinction, Researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico studied several fossil records and extinction counts. They used these records to compare current extinction rates and “background” (or normal) extinction rates. The team purposefully used a lower estimate for the values to see if even the lowest difference between current and background extinction rates affirmed an advancing mass extinction.

The result? Absolutely.

The scientists have no doubt that if we continue on the current path, we will enter a mass extinction that will have massive consequences for everyone. Avoiding the mass extinction will require a lot of effort - to conserve habitats and threatened species. Fortunately, there are several organizations working to prevent this disaster. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) supports critically endangered animals, educates people about the importance of wildlife and works closely with companies to develop more sustainable ways of harvesting materials from forests.

We can help in simple ways as well, by donating to organizations like WWF and becoming aware of our impact on the world. Combining our efforts can make an impact and help us save the amazing diversity of life we cherish today.