New Study Shows Earth Entering New Extinction Phase

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According to a study conducted by three US universities, the Earth has entered a new period of extinction and human beings could be top on the casualty list.

The report said that vertebrates were vanishing 114 times the normal rate and was conducted primarily by the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley, while the findings echo those of a report published by Duke University last year.

Dinosaurs

One of the authors of the study said that we are now about to enter the sixth ‘great mass extinction’ event.  The last event of this nature was 65million year ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out, still thought to have been caused by a large meteor hitting the Earth.

If it is allowed to continue, lead author Gerardo Ceballos said, then life would take many millions of years to recover from it and there is a good chance that our species would be one of the ones to disappear early on.

Scientists studies the historic rates of extinction in vertebrates – animals with backbones – using the fossil record.  They discovered that the current extinction rate was more than 100 times higher than the periods of time when the planet was not going through a mass extinction event.

Since 1900, there have been more than 400 species of vertebrates that have disappeared, according to the report.  Normally, this loss would have been seen over a period of 10,000 years.

Climate change

Published in the Science Advances journal, the study lists causes as climate change, pollution and deforestation.  These have a knock on effect that could lead to ecosystems being destroyed - bees are an example cited, which could be lost in as little as 75 years at current rates.

Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University said that there are example all over the world of species that are virtually walking dead.  He added that we are ‘sawing off the limb that we are sitting on’.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that around 50 animals move closers to extinction every year with around 41% of all amphibians and 25% of mammals currently threatened with extinction.

One example is the lemur, which faces a major struggle to avoid extinction in the next few years.  The IUCN say that 94% of all lemurs are currently under threat and more than one-fifth of the species are currently classed as critically endangered.  They have suffered with loss of habitat in their native Madagascar from illegal logging while they are also regularly hunted for their meat.

The report did contain a brighter note, saying that it was still possible to avoid the ‘dramatic decay of biodiversity’ but that intensive conservation and rapid action was needed to stop it.


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