World verging on ‘sixth great extinction,’ study says — Washington Post

Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg
Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg

From the Washington Post (Terrance McCoy):

The story of the buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is part of the story of a great extinction, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Species of plants and animals are dying out at least 1,000 times faster than before the advent of the human species, and if things don’t turn around, it may get a whole lot worse, researchers said.

“We are on the verge of the sixth great extinction,” Stuart Pimm, a professor at Duke University who lead a team of nine international scientists, told the Associated Press. ”Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

Previous mass extinctions are often associated with a meteor strike, one of which likely killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Another extinction, called the Great Dying, offed 90 percent of the world’s species 250 million years ago — though as The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash pointed out, that one may have been caused by a microbe.

This study focused on contemporary rates of extinction and used databases such as the Red List of Threatened Species. Researchers compared today’s rates with those before humans arrived. And today’s, according to the AP, are 10 times faster than scientists had earlier believed.

“Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how that drives extinctions,’ the study said. ”We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status.” Many land-based species are distributed across terrains smaller than the state of Delaware, Pimm said in this Duke University press release.

Such species are “geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct,” the study said. “Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.”

The number one threat to the world’s many species: habitat loss. It is becoming increasingly difficult, researchers said, to find any speck of planet that hasn’t been either altered or built upon by humans. Complicating efforts: There are so many species no one knows of. “Most species remain unknown to science, and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know,” Pimm said in the press release.

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