With nearly half of known vertebrate species in decline, more than 40% experiencing severe population loss, and many mammals losing more than 30% of their geographic range, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes the Earth is moving into a period of “biological annihilation”.
Extinction is a fact of biological evolution, the study team acknowledges. But circumstances are extreme when 200 vertebrate species are conservatively estimated to have gone extinct in the last century, Climate News Network warns. “Few realize,” the PNAS paper states, “that if subjected to the estimated ‘background’ or ‘normal’ extinction rates prevailing in the last two million years, the 200 vertebrate species would have taken not a century, but up to 10,000 years to disappear.”
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Moreover, “our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions, Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization,” the authors warn. “We describe this as a ‘biological annihilation’ to highlight the current magnitude of the Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”
Expected human population growth of 2.5 billion by 2050 “would make the human assault on civilization’s life support systems disproportionately worse,” adds Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich, one of the authors behind the new study.
As forests are cleared, grasslands are converted to cattle ranches, rivers are dammed, and seas are polluted, species of all kinds “face greater competition for food and ever smaller geographic ranges,” Climate News Net notes. “But human health, wealth, and survival ultimately depend on the creatures of the wilderness: forests and forest species deliver the planet’s oxygen, and conserve and recycle the planet’s fresh water, as well as providing the resources from which almost all the world’s medicines, all the world’s food, and many of the fabrics from which the world’s shelter and clothing is made are derived.”