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The Planet's First-ever Mass-Extinction Precipitated by a Biotic Agent: Humans

Amphibians_2 Should we be alarmed at the current massive die-offs being noted in the animal and plant kingdoms? After all, new species arise and old species die off all the time. Its just nature taking its course, right? Not necessarily. The Earth is now entering the sixth mass extinction event in its four-billion-year history, but what’s different about this die-off is that this is the only such event precipitated by a biotic agent: humans.

The extinction numbers far outweigh the emergence of new species. From a purely selfish perspective, humans should be very concerned. Since we haven’t terraformed Mars yet, we still need a livable ecosystem on this planet in order to survive. As mass extinction occurs, experts say that we end up dealing with serious consequences. Recently, a team of scientists have discovered new information, that indicates things are worse than we previously thought.

"There's no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now," said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. "Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn't. The fact that they're cutting out now should be a lesson for us."

A recent study supported by The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, found that nearly all of the amphibian species that inhabit the peaks of the Sierra Nevada are threatened. Wake and Vance Vredenburg, research associate at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley and assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University discovered that for two of these species, the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog and the Southern Yellow-legged Frog, populations over the last few years declined by 95 to 98 percent, even in highly protected areas such as Yosemite National Park. This means that each local frog population has dwindled to 2 to 5 percent of its former size! Originally, frogs living atop the highest, most remote peaks seemed to thrive, but recently, they are also dying off.

In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species force us to accept that a new mass extinction is facing the planet.

Frogs are certainly not the only victims in this mass extinction, Wake noted. Many other scientists studying other organisms are discovering similarly dramatic effects.

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.

"Our work needs to be seen in the context of all this other work, and the news is very, very grim," Wake said.

As of yet, there is no consensus among the scientific community about when exactly the current mass extinction started, notes Wake. It may have been 10,000 years ago, when humans first came from Asia to the Americas and hunted many of the large mammals to extinction. It may have started after the Industrial Revolution, when the human population exploded. Or, we might be seeing the start of it right now. But whatever the start date, empirical data clearly show that extinction rates have dramatically increased over the last few decades.

Peter Raven, past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, states in the foreword to their publication AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, "We have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century."

The causes of biocide are a hodge-podge of human environmental “poisons” which often work synergistically, including a vast array of pollutants and pesticides that weaken immunity and make plants and animals more susceptible to microbial and fungal infections, 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 help prevent what many experts believe is a coming worldwide bio collapse. The eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson has wisely noted that 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. After all, what good will all of our conveniences do for us, if we keep generating them in ways that collectively destroy the necessities of life?

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

Related Galaxy posts:


Exponential Technologies: Cheer Up World—We Are On the Verge of Great Things

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* Portions of this post are extracts from a UC Berkeley press release.

Sources:
http://www.nasonline.org/site/PageNavigator/SACKLER_Biodiversity

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/08/12_extinction.shtml

http://progressive.atl.playstream.com/nakfi/progressive/Sackler/sackler_12_07_07/david_wake/david_wake.html

Comments

Love the concept of "real-world view". It is definitely worth spreading. One important element of the biodiversity puzzle is environmental education, and smart messaging about the issue. The extent of public ignorance regarding biodiversity loss is staggering:

http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/whats-wrong-with-biodiversity/

Love the concept of "real-world view". It is definitely worth spreading. One important element of the biodiversity puzzle is environmental education, and smart messaging about the issue. The extent of public ignorance regarding biodiversity loss is staggering:

http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/whats-wrong-with-biodiversity/

Agreed. "Real-world view" is a concept that many more people need to understand while we are still stuck to just the one planet. But for those of us who already comprehend the situation, the realization is that we simply will not have enough time to spread the message before something bad happens to the human race.

We need to speed up the colonization of space now, while we still have the resources to do so.

those in position to take serious, quick action to change and possibly slow this down and create more awareness are doing next to nothing, us humans are beginning to look very ignorant and unable to change are destructive and uncaring ways.

it all comes down ti this:

greedy, careless evil people have been in power of are world for so long. i know, its horrible.

It's called a J curve. Populations grow slowly then suddenly make huge leaps forward in a "short" amount of time. A biological setback occurs such as a virus & their numbers drastically decrease. Then it starts over. Populations don't just grow & grow or stay stable forever & ever. It's all very natural & to be expected.

Or the frogs simply moved & didn't leave a forwarding address. I remember how we were told the frogs along the Illinois River were suddenly listed as "endangered." Needless to say we that lived on the river were all shocked. Those things covered the beaches to where you almost couldn't help stepping on them at night. Just not located where the researchers had previously been monitoring them anymore. They were "disappearing at an alarming rate" they said. You couldn't hear anything else at night but their echoes across the river & it was maddeningly loud. Also maddening to see all these supposedly educated people on the news crying over their missing frogs. I don’t know if they ever figured it out.

Frogs apparently don't care where you think they should live & have no intention of staying put. Much like people. I can't imagine us staying put here on earth FOREVER. Same as I don't think our population can just grow & grow forever. Not all of us will survive the next plague or catastrophic event but spreading out ups our odds.

It isn't the first mass extinction caused by a biotic agent. The first oxygen producing cyanobacteria nearly wiped out the previous environment of anoxic bacteria and archaea. And incidentally made more complex forms of life possible. We don't know the causes of all other mass extinctions, so it's certainly possible that one or two were caused by biotic agents (although we can be pretty certain that many were not). And finally, it's not just pesticides and urban sprawl which cause extinctions. Humanity hunted out the large birds and mammals of Australia and the Americas thousands of years ago.

Other extinctions may have been caused by 'biotic agents' as well. Levels and ratios of atmospheric gasses have been blamed for several of the great extinctions. Some of the variation may have been caused by 'biotic agents'.

When the earliest forms of anaerobic life on our planet started generating oxygen, is theorized that they eventually produced enough oxygen to be toxic for there own survival, which caused an extinction event. They didn't come back until oxygen consuming organisms evolved to balance things out.

That 'real world view' will never occur as long as CEOs, like the ones who brought the US economy to its knees (and the world's, as well), are running the show.

As long as the worlds' economies are modeled after a plan that calls for infinite expansion, biodiversity will continue to dwindle.

We will NEVER, EVER terraform Mars, or any other planet. Humans will never colonize Mars either. Visit, maybe. Maybe. But we will NEVER colonize it.

Biodiversity will continue to dwindle until we've affected all corners and climes of the world. This will continue until all economies have ceased to operate. Then it will take tens of millions of years for the planet to recover.

There is no way the projected human population increase will allow for economies to continue to operate on the premise of infinite expansion. That expansion will continue until it can't anymore, then the inevitable decline for our species will occur.

The decline of the human species will INEVITABLY occur because there is no possible way interconnected economies will just give up the premise of infinite expansion. Unless... unless some worldwide catastrophe puts a halt to all of that soon.

This is the reason I love disney animation movie with animal talking. They looks like human but not enough human to destruct all the world

I’m hoping that we’ll end up with a slew of prototyped ideas and a bunch of happy people. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more hard work until we can turn those embryonic proofs of concept into living

Well, when we're all dead and gone hopefully the next intelligent species to rise will see what we've done and learn what NOT to do.

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