For years, scientists have warned that Earth is entering it sixth mass extinction — an era in which three-quarters of all species die off within only a few centuries. Recent finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints a full picture of “biological annihilation.”
Hundreds of species are disappearing at a faster-than-expected rate. And, believe it or not, even humans are at-risk.
Earth has supported life for 3.5 billion years, but its hospitality is hardly consistent. Natural disasters have triggered at least five mass extinctions in the past 500 million years, each of which wiped out between 50 and 90 percent of all species on the planet.
The most recent occurred about 65 million years ago, when an asteroid ended the reign of dinosaurs and opened new doors for mammals.
New study calls the loss of that wildlife a “biological annihilation” and a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization.”
Researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México found that the rate of population loss is extremely high — even among species that are not considered endangered. They also found that up to half of all individual animals have been lost in the last few decades.
A 2016 study published in the journal Science also suggests this sixth mass extinction is killing off large ocean dwellers (like sharks, whales, giant clams, sea turtles and tuna) in disproportionately greater numbers than smaller animals. That’s a reversal from past extinctions, when there was a slight connection between smaller size and going extinct.
And while previous extinctions were often linked to asteroids or volcanoes, this one is an inside job. It’s caused mainly by one species — a mammal, ironically. The current crisis is the handiwork of humans, and we have a “unique propensity to cull the largest members of a population.
Main Highlights of Report:
The researchers wrote that numerous species around the world are experiencing an “extremely high degree of population decay.” For instance, nearly one-third of the 27,600 land-based mammals, bird, amphibian and reptile species are shrinking in terms of territorial range and their numbers.
After looking at a well-documented group of 177 mammal species, the researchers also determined that all had their territories reduced by at least 30 percent between the years of 1900 and 2015.
Furthermore, more than 40 percent of the species lost at least 80 percent of their geographic range during this time.
As a result of these findings, the study authors wrote that “Earth’s sixth mass extinction is more severe” than previously believed. Additionally, the major event is “ongoing.”
Scientists have already established that 50 percent of the Earth’s wildlife has been wiped out in the last 40 years alone, but no one really comprehended the extent to which the numbers have declined.
In fact, within twenty years, the African elephant may go extinct. Barn swallows, giraffes, rhinos, pangolins, and jaguars, as well, may only be preserved in zoos if their populations continue to decline.
With 37 percent of the Earth’s land surface now farmland or pasture (according to the World Bank), and humans utilizing polluting resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished, the whole world is in jeopardy unless sustainable initiatives are introduced and implemented.