Sunday, 1 June 2014

Rapidly Vanishing Species Could Lead To Earth’s ‘Sixth Great Extinction’

May 31, 2014

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online


Image Caption: Okapi have been undergoing a 
decline since at least 1995 that is ongoing and
 projected to continue, in the face of severe,
 intensifying threats and lack of effective 
conservation action. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Plant and animal species are becoming extinct at rates more than 1,000 times more quickly than they did before the arrival of humans, indicating that the Earth could be edging closer to a sixth great extinction, according to a new study published May 30 in the journal Science.

In the study, Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm and his colleagues examined both past and present rates of extinction using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and related resources. While performing their review, the researchers discovered that the historical extinction rate was lower than scientists had originally believed.

As a result of their investigation, Pimm told Associated Press (AP) Science Writer Seth Borenstein that his team now believes that species are dying out globally approximately 10 times more quickly than biologists had believed. Pimm added that the planet is “on the verge of the sixth extinction,” and that whether or not it can be avoided “will depend on our actions.”

The new research, which Borenstein said is being hailed as a landmark study by the scientific community, focuses specifically on the extinction rate and not the actual number of species vanishing from the planet. The authors calculated a “death rate” of species that become extinct annually out of one million unique species.

“Calculating extinction rates can be difficult, in part because no one knows exactly how many species there are,” explained Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic. Experts have managed to identify at least 1.9 million animal species, and the study reported that there are at least 450,000 types of plants in existence, she added.

Pimm told Dell’Amore that conservationists are able to calculate the extinction rate of those species by tracking how many of them die out each year, similar to the technique used to determine a country’s mortality rate. Based on that approach, the study authors determined that between 100 and 1,000 species were lost per million per year, primarily due to climate change and habitat destruction resulting from human causes.


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