Quantcast

Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Already Underway

Popular
Africa's giraffe population has plunged almost 40 percent in the past 30 years. Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity

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."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London. Martin Hearn / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Money talks. And today it had something to say about the impending global climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Sam Cooper

By Sam Cooper

Thomas Edison once said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!"

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.

Sponsored

By Kayla Robbins

Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.

Read More Show Less
A NOAA research vessel at a Taylor Energy production site in the Gulf of Mexico in September 2018. NOAA

The federal government is looking into the details from the longest running oil spill in U.S. history, and it's looking far worse than the oil rig owner let on, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Damage at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from the 2016 occupation. USFWS

By Tara Lohan

When armed militants with a grudge against the federal government seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon back in the winter of 2016, I remember avoiding the news coverage. Part of me wanted to know what was happening, but each report I read — as the occupation stretched from days to weeks and the destruction grew — made me so angry it was hard to keep reading.

Read More Show Less
Computer model projection of temperature anomalies across Europe on June 27. Temperature scale in °C. Tropicaltidbits.com

A searing heat wave has begun to spread across Europe, with Germany, France and Belgium experiencing extreme temperatures that are set to continue in the coming days.

Read More Show Less
Skull morphology of hybrid "narluga" whale. Nature / Mikkel Høegh Post

In the 1980s, a Greenlandic subsistence hunter shot and killed a whale with bizarre features unlike any he had ever seen before. He knew something was unique about it, so he left its abnormally large skull on top of his toolshed where it rested until a visiting professor happened upon it a few years later.

Read More Show Less