Experts warn of 'rapid acceleration' in Earth's 6th mass extinction
Animal species are vanishing at a rate 35 times faster than the typical historical rate observed over the past million years.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has provided further evidence that the planet is currently undergoing its sixth mass extinction event, and according to the study, this event is rapidly gaining momentum, Axios reports.
This study contributes to the increasing recognition of the detrimental effects of human activities on the Earth's course.
The research emphasizes that animal species are vanishing at a rate 35 times faster than the typical historical rate observed over the past million years.
Researchers underscore the significant role played by humans in driving this phenomenon, emphasizing that the number of animal species lost in the last 500 years would have taken approximately 18,000 years to go extinct without human influence.
According to Gerardo Ceballos, the study's principal investigator, the widespread disappearance of animal species signifies the erasure of valuable records concerning the Earth's evolutionary past and its future potential, with significant consequences for humanity.
"There is life on the planet because of the plants and animals — wild plants and animals — and the ecosystems that they form," Ceballos told Axios.
He further noted that the crops that are vital for human consumption, the balance of atmospheric gases supporting life on the planet, and the essential compounds used in medicines all share dependencies on various aspects of plant and animal life.
Losing entire branches of genera, as Ceballos emphasized, equates to a loss in the planet's capacity to sustain life in a broad sense, with particular implications for human survival.
This recent study builds upon a body of research spanning several years, all of which have consistently sounded the alarm about the ongoing sixth mass extinction event on Earth.
Earlier warnings from scientists have indicated that as many as 1 million species face the risk of extinction, with the potential loss of some species occurring within decades.
In a separate study published earlier this summer in the journal Biological Reviews, it was observed that the ongoing sixth mass extinction is distinct as it is the first mass extinction event directly attributed to a single species – humans.
Researchers proposed in June to consider a new geological epoch that acknowledges the significant influence of human activities on Earth.
It's important to note that not all scientists share a consensus on whether the current decline in wildlife qualifies as a sixth mass extinction event.
"We have no idea how to identify a sixth mass extinction," Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, told Axios.
He added that objecting to the idea of a sixth extinction does not imply rejecting the reality of accelerated wildlife erosion on Earth, which is occurring at a pace unprecedented in millions of years.
"When you start saying, 'Well, how does this compare to what happened 65 million years ago?' That's when it gets really difficult," Pimm said.
Ceballos refers to mass extinction as a rapid and catastrophic event, typically triggered by natural calamities, resulting in the extinction of around 70% of the Earth's plant and animal species.
According to Ceballos, the ongoing debate about whether to label the current phenomenon as the sixth mass extinction event is of secondary importance. What truly matters is the undeniable fact that Earth is grappling with profound challenges, including substantial biodiversity depletion, climate change, and environmental contamination.
The most recent mass extinction event occurred about 66 million years ago following an asteroid impact on Earth.