The world is currently in a period of mass extinction, according to a new study. Human activities have been linked to the falling populations of many species but the research also warns that extinction on a large scale could threaten human existence.
The study, which has been published in Science Advances, calls for fast actions to protect threatened species, populations and habitat. It estimates that species are disappearing up to about 100 fasters than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
Lead author Gerardo Ceballos, of the Universidad Autónoma de México, explained that if the current rate of extinction is allowed to continue it would take millions of years for life to recover. Furthermore, humans would “likely disappear early on”.
Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said, “[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event.
“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.”
The research used fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records to compare a “highly conservative” estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those used in previous analyses.
Currently around 41% of all amphibian species and 26% of all mammals face extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, highlighting the widespread threats. The study also notes that as species disappear so do crucial ecosystem services. For example, honeybees pollinating crops and purifying water in wetlands.
Despite the gloomy outlook, the study’s authors argue that action can be taken. “Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations – notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change,” they state.
A separate study published by Duke University last year found that the extinction rate of species around the world is now 1,000 times higher than it was before humans arrived. Co-author of the study Stuart Pimm explained the findings show how bad the current extinction crisis is and the need for urgent action.
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