Escalating wildlife loss puts entire ecosystems at risk
Human actions have resulted in the extinction of groups of species at a rate 35 times higher than the natural pace observed in the past 500 years.
Researchers report that specific groups of animal species are disappearing at a rate 35 times greater than the natural average due to human activities, The Guardian reported. The alarming trend serves as additional confirmation that the planet is currently experiencing and rapidly intensifying a sixth mass extinction event in its history.
Scientists who examined the historical extinction rate of closely related animal species over the past 500 years have determined that, in the absence of human influence, these extinctions would have taken approximately 18,000 years to occur naturally. Furthermore, they have observed that the rate at which these species are disappearing is on the rise.
Their research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identified that since 1500, a minimum of 73 groupings of mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian species have become extinct. Comparatively, if these trends had adhered to the typical pre-human impact extinction rates, they would have expected only two extinctions. Among the species lost are the elephant birds of Madagascar, New Zealand's moa, and Hawaiian moho honeyeaters.
The acceleration of extinction is anticipated in the future due to factors such as habitat destruction, the climate emergency, and the illicit wildlife trade. In the most dire scenario, where all presently endangered groups of species vanish by the century's end, the rate of extinction would be 354 times higher than the historical average over the past million years.
The recent study centers on "genera", which is the plural form of "genus". In biological classification, a genus refers to groups of species that share certain characteristics and is a taxonomic level above individual species. The researchers initially anticipated that genera would experience a lower extinction rate compared to individual species. However, their findings revealed that the extinction rates for genera were comparable to those of individual species.
Although there is disagreement among some scientists regarding the assertion of a sixth mass extinction, a United Nations assessment conducted in 2019 to evaluate the planet's well-being discovered that human-induced environmental pressures put approximately 1 million species in danger of extinction.
“Such mutilation of the tree of life and the resulting loss of ecosystem services provided by biodiversity to humanity is a serious threat to the stability of civilization. Immediate political, economic, and social efforts of an unprecedented scale are essential if we are to prevent these extinctions and their societal impacts,” the study revealed.