A new study has suggested Earth is currently heading towards its sixth mass extinction of the planet’s biodiversity.
The study builds on previous warnings that species on our planet have been dying off at an alarming rate.
There have been five extinction events in Earth’s history; these are events that are signified by mass biodiversity loss because of extreme natural occurrences.
The study, published in the Biological Reviews journal, focussed on marine life as well as birds and mammals. Taking molluscs as an example and, ‘extrapolating boldly’, estimated that ‘since around AD 1500, possibly as many as 7.5–13% (150,000–260,000) of all ~2 million known species have already gone extinct’.
Robert Cowie, lead author of the study from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, spoke about the findings and explained how the rate of species extinction was accelerating.
Drastically increased rates of species extinctions and declining abundances of many animal and plant populations are well documented, yet some deny that these phenomena amount to mass extinction.
According to the researchers, this crisis isn’t being taken seriously.
The study suggests that people’s current view of the crisis is only focusing on the extinction of mammals and birds, which is occurring at a less rapid rate than the extinction of invertebrates.
The researchers spoke of the bias in the study:
Often, they use the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List to support their stance, arguing that the rate of species loss does not differ from the background rate. However, the Red List is heavily biased: almost all birds and mammals but only a minute fraction of invertebrates have been evaluated against conservation criteria.
Invertebrates include insects and their extinction seems less likely to be paid attention to by the general public.
The study added:
Thus the numbers assessed as Extinct on the Red List are under-estimates, and inappropriate to use to estimate true levels of extinction.
The Red List that researchers are referring to currently estimates that around 900 species have gone extinct. However, researchers suggest the true number is between 150,000 and 260,000 since the year 1500.
According to the study, land species, particularly island species are dying off at faster rates than continental species.
While some continue to insist that extinction is just part of the earth’s natural cycle, the researchers have added that this stops people from taking responsibility.
‘Denying the crisis, accepting it and doing nothing about it, or embracing it and manipulating it for the fickle benefit of people, defined no doubt by politicians and business interests, is an abrogation of moral responsibility,’ they said.
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Topics: Science, Earth, Extinction, species