Humans Are Now Driving Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Faster, Experts Warn

A new study found that the ongoing mass extinction on Earth has been accelerating. Researchers said that human activities mainly contribute to the rapid loss of life and that a global effort is now needed to address the phenomenon. 

The study, published in the journal PNAS, states that with the current pace of mass extinction, it may take just decades for hundreds more species to disappear for all time. It also warned that the rapid loss of species may damage ecosystems and food webs, affecting the survival of both animals and humans.

"What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species," Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said as quoted by ScienceAlert.

For the study, Ceballos and his colleagues used data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Birdlife International. The team looked into the populations of vertebrate animals already considered close to extinction, including those that lost most of their geographic range and are fewer than 1,000 living individuals worldwide.

Results showed that 1.7 percent of assessed species, or 515 species in total, are at risk of extinction. The figures may look small but losing them can significantly affect other animals.  

Researchers said the animals that live with the 515 species on the brink of extinction are likely to be exposed to the same geographical threats. A large number of those species may eventually die due to disrupted food chains, deforestation, pollution or human activities that damage the environment.

"Close ecological interactions of species on the brink tend to move other species toward annihilation when they disappear – extinction breeds extinctions," the researchers said in their report.

The findings back an earlier research also led by Ceballos. His team previously looked into conservative estimates to determine the discrepancy between ordinary or background rates of species extinction and the current spate of die-offs.

The researchers found that the average rate of vertebrate species extinctions five years ago was two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species every 100 years. These figures are far less than today's extinction toll, which is 100 times higher over the last century.

But the researchers said it is not too late to slow down the loss of life on Earth. They suggested limiting or prohibiting the trade of wild species, reducing deforestation and recognizing all animal populations of less than 5,000 as critically endangered.

"When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system," Paul Ehrlich, one of the researchers and a biologist from Stanford University, said. "The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption to which it is linked."

Black Rhino Black rhino in Masai Mara's green season. Kenya, Jan 2019. Kandukuru Nagarjun/flickr

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