Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction

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May 02, 2007

Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction

Rate_of_extinction_3Biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will be completely gone by the end of the century. Wild plant-life is also disappearing. Most biologists say that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic mass extinction. Numerous scientific studies confirm that this phenomenon is real and happening right now. Should anyone really care? Will it impact individuals on a personal level? Scientists say, “Yes!”

Critics argue that species disappear and new ones emerge all the time. That’s true, if you’re speaking in terms of millennia. Scientists acknowledge that species disappear at an estimated rate of one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost ones at around the same rate. Recently humans have accelerated the extinction rate to where several entire species are annihilated every single day. The death toll artificially caused by humans is mind-boggling. Nature will take millions of years to repair what we destroy in just a few decades.

Dodo_species_extinction_3A recent analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off. Over 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have compiled data showing that currently 51 per cent of known reptiles, 52 per cent of known insects, and 73 per cent of known flowering plants are in danger along with many mammals, birds and amphibians. It is likely that some species will become extinct before they are even discovered, before any medicinal use or other important features can be assessed. The cliché movie plot where the cure for cancer is about to be annihilated is more real than anyone would like to imagine.

Research done by the American Museum of Natural History found that the vast majority of biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, and is even more serious of an environmental problem than one of its contributors- global warming. The research also found that the average person woefully underestimates the dangers of mass extinction. Powerful industrial lobbies would like people to believe that we can survive while other species are quickly and quietly dying off. Irresponsible governments and businesses would have people believe that we don’t need a healthy planet to survive- even while human cancer rates are tripling every decade.

A lot of us heard about the recent extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin. It was publicized because dolphins are cute and smart, and we like dolphins. We were sort of sad that we humans were single-handedly responsible for destroying the entire millions-of-years-old species in just a few years through rampant pollution. Unfortunately the real death toll is so much higher than we hear on the news. Only a few endangered “celebrity favorites” get any notice at all.

Since animals and plants exist in symbiotic relationships to one another, extinction of one species is likely to cause ”co-extinctions”. Some species directly affect the health of hundreds of other species. There is always some kind of domino effect. This compounding process occurs with frightening speed. That makes rampant extinction similar too disease in the way that it spreads. Sooner or later- if gone unchecked- humans may catch it too.

Amphibians are a prime example at how tinkering with the environment can cause rapid animal death. For over 300 million years frogs, salamanders, newts and toads were hardy enough to precede and outlive the dinosaurs up until the present time. Now, within just two decades many amphibians are disappearing. Scientists are alarmed at how one seemingly robust species of amphibians will suddenly disappear within a few months.

The causes of biocide are a hodge-podge of human environmental “poisons” which often work synergistically, including a vast array of pollutants, pesticides, a thinning ozone layer which increases ultra-violet radiation, human induced climate change, habitat loss from agriculture and urban sprawl, invasions of exotic species introduced by humans, illegal and legal wildlife trade, light pollution, and man-made borders among other many other causes.

Is there a way out? The answer is yes and no. We’ll never regain the lost biodiversity-at least not within a fathomable time period, but there are ways to prevent a worldwide bio collapse, but they all require immediate action. The eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, and other scientists point out that the world needs international cooperation in order to sustain ecosystems, since nature is unaware of artificially drawn borders. Humans love to fence off space they’ve claimed as their own. Sadly, a border fence often has terrible ecological consequences. One fence between India and Pakistan cuts off bears and leopards from their feeding habitats, which is causing them to starve to death. Starvation leads to attacks on villagers, and more slaughtering of the animals.

Some of the most endangered wildlife species live right in between the borderland area of the US and Mexico. These indigenous animals don’t know that they now live between two countries. They were here long before the people came and nations divided, but they will not survive if we cut them off fromtheir habitat. The Sky Islands is one of many areas smack in the middle of this boundary where some of North America's most threatened wildlife is found. Jaguars, bison, and Wolves have to cross through international terrain in the course of their life's travels in order to survive. Unfortunately, illegal Mexican workers cross here too. People who know nothing of the wildlife’s biological needs want to create a large fence to keep out Mexicans, regardless of the fact that a fence would devastate these already fragile animal populations.

Wilson says the time has come to start calling the "environmentalist view" the "real-world view". We can’t ignore reality simply because it doesn’t conform nicely within convenient boundaries and moneymaking strategies. What good will all of our money and conveniences do for us, if we collectively destroy the necessities of life?

There is hope, but it requires radical changes. Many organizations are lobbying for that change. One group trying to salvage ecosystems is called The Wildlands Project, a conservation group spearheading the drive to reconnect the remaining wildernesses. The immediate goal is to reconnect wild North America in four broad "mega-linkages". Within each mega-linkage, mosaics of public and private lands, which would provide safe migrations for wildlife, would connect core areas. Broad, vegetated overpasses would link wilderness areas normally split by roads. They will need cooperation from local landowners and government agencies.

It is a radical vision to many people, and the Wildlands Project expects that it will take at least 100 years to complete. Even so, projects like this, on a worldwide basis, may be humanity’s best chance of saving what’s left of the planets eco-system, and the human race along with it. Posted by Rebecca Sato.


Check out Extinction Blog for Global Incidents and Info

Prior Posts:

The 6th Mass Extinction

"The Great Extinction" & the Rise of Modern Species

Coming of Age in the Holocene


Punctuated equilibrium, is the hallmark of niche evolution. Mostly after some huge calamity, that we are, for other species, that calamity; as niches open up something will fill them. The problem is killing off too many at one time and creating cascades of extinction on interdependent biomes. It isn't that we are killing everything in sight, just that we are killing KEY units in dependent chains, or have displaced many local keys with imports(like honey bees). Non-Native come alongs' out compete native when transferred to new locations without their local limiters, nothing new there. That things go extinct does not necessarly create gaps in the Bio-Mass which is the real danger sign of uninhabitability, not just loss of diversity, thing still live there, just not the ones that belong there.

It is ludicrous to believe that we can hurt the earth. When she gets tired of us, she will shake us off like a bunch of fleas.

Jade=> I assume you are kidding?

You can see our effects on the planet anywhere you look.

ie, landslides and floods because we have paved so much land that would have normally absorbed the water and removed plants that would have stabilized the earth with their roots.

At the risk of sounding like a loon... Agent Smith wasn't too far off in The Matrix when humans were compared to a virus. We do not help anything we touch, we take and consume and move on and breed. It's too bad we don't have a natural predator to cull our heard anymore. Well I am sure some microbe will come along and bring the balance back by whiping out masses of humans.

JM, I think you and Jade actually perfectly agree. You just both put it into different words. You're both stating the truth that if humans push too hard, nature will eventually push back. We won't like (or survive) the consequences, but we'll have brought them on ourselves.

There were many huge mass extinctions in Earth's history and yet humans eventually developed.

It is apparent that humans are too dumb and will cause their own extinction as a result of environmental pollution and its consequences.

However this is in the end beneficial to Life and a more intelligent species will emerge.

"a more intelligent species will emerge."....don't bet on it. Our species are just "lucky" to have evolved along the line of intelligence.
It's actually funny how everyone tries to pretend that there "still is hope". I think it's mostly a sad way of trying not trying to sound overly pessimistic and gloomy, however, I see NO WAY that we'll ever get out of this problem. The biggest factor to all of this as far as I'm concerned is population population population .... unless we somehow convince the whole freakin' world to stop having kids for a long time (which in itself will be an impossible proposal)..I don't see any way of getting out of this mess.

It appears there's no way to really know one way or another, though it does seem as if we're collectively to numc to care or too dumb to realize.

Selective breeding is common in the world. It doesn't always start at the bottom and shear off the stragglers like in the nature movies. Sometimes it starts at the top, taking out the privileged made incapable of running hard by their indolences! It happens quite naturally, and right now, the overly big bodied, anti-biotic stuffed, hormone meat driven, lazy, physically inactive, high carb dieted, over drugged, spoiled, "entitled", cocky, sedentary, over-educated, super-entertained, over-stimulated, amoral, super-consuming, over paid American is first on the list! His over-dependence on things synthetic for his survival is his Achilles heel! The (GRD) great republican depression may be the thrashing machine for the American population, or it may be the "Grim Reaper" Now, get in your Corvette, drive down to the drugstore for some Tylenol, pick up a fifth to swallow it down, and grab a pizza to fill your tum-tum. Don't forget your Prozac, and turn up the central heating and humidity control a bit too! Wrap up nice and comfy in your artificial bedding, slump down on your oil-based fluffy mattress, and wait for the sleeping-pill to kick in. Good night!

Important to note that global warming is another factor that can and will contribute to mass extinctions. kinda have to solve both at once

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