Scientists warn in a new study that Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction that is "more severe than perceived."
Not only that, human activity—including pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, poaching, warming oceans and extreme weather events tied to climate change—is to blame for this massive loss in biodiversity, according to an analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For the study, researchers from Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico analyzed data on 27,600 species of birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles, comprising nearly half of known terrestrial vertebrates.
The results were shocking—about one-third of the species decreased in population size and range. Even common species are in decline.
"We find that the rate of population loss in terrestrial vertebrates is extremely high—even in 'species of low concern,'" the authors wrote.
Ecologist Gerardo Ceballos, an author in of the study, explained to the Atlantic how barn swallows, for instance, still number in the millions but are declining in many parts of their range.
"Even these common species are declining," Ceballos said. "Eventually, they'll become endangered, and eventually they'll be extinct."
Furthermore, in a detailed study of 177 mammals, the scientists found that all of the mammals have lost at least 30 percent of their geographic ranges between 1900 and 2015. More than 40 percent of those mammals—including rhinos, orangutans, gorillas and many big cats—have seen the land they once roamed shrink by more than 80 percent.
Without mincing words, the scientists described Earth's ongoing loss of wildlife as "biological annihilation" that will have "negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization."
Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions in its geological past during which the majority of living species were wiped from existence. The most well-known and recent extinction killed the dinosaurs. But instead of a massive asteroid, volcanic activity or other natural causes kicking off such an event, researchers in the new study argue that humans are to blame.
"In the last few decades, habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, and more recently climate disruption, as well as the interactions among these factors, have led to the catastrophic declines in both the numbers and sizes of populations of both common and rare vertebrate species," the study stated.
"Several species of mammals that were relatively safe one or two decades ago are now endangered," such as cheetahs, lions and giraffes, it said.
Biologist Paul Ehrlich, one of the scientists in the study, told the Guardian that their paper serves as a serious warning to humanity's own survival.
"The serious warning in our paper needs to be heeded because civilization depends utterly on the plants, animals and microorganisms of Earth that supply it with essential ecosystem services ranging from crop pollination and protection to supplying food from the sea and maintaining a livable climate," he said.
"The time to act is very short," Ehrlich added. "It will, sadly, take a long time to humanely begin the population shrinkage required if civilization is to long survive, but much could be done on the consumption front and with 'band aids'—wildlife reserves, diversity protection laws—in the meantime."
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Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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