Uh oh: Scientist believes Earth is in the early stages of another mass extinction

Contributed by
Jun 22, 2015

A new scientific paper claims Earth is in the early stages of another mass extinction event, which spells bad news for any creatures who call the planet home. You know, like humans. 

Published in Science Advances, the paper points to the extinction of several thousand different animal and insect species. Since we've changed the makeup of the planet so much, the study notes we're very close to reaching a tipping point where we've irreparably screwed up the biodiversity of our planet. Once we do that, the consequences could be unfathomable, including necessities such as food shortages (by messing with nature's food chain).

The study notes that extinction is occurring at a higher rate than previous periods in history. The reason? It cites humanity as the big problem here (surprise, surprise) and our urban sprawl, which has redesigned our planet and shifted or eliminated space previously used by our animal pals. Not to mention things like pollution, etc.

Here's a choice excerpt that, when read slowly and comprehended, is kind of terrifying:

We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

As Gizmodo notes, a mass extinction is defined as an event where 75 percent of species on the planet go extinct in a million years or less. There have only been five throughout all of Earth's 4.5-billion-year existence, with the latest taking out the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago. Admittedly, that one was helped along by an asteroid strike, but still — something to definitely be aware of, folks.

(Via Science AdvancesGizmodo)

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