Study: World’s sixth mass extinction may be underway

Terrence Aym by Terrence Aym on March 5th, 2011

This is article 4 of 13 in the topic Doomsday Theories

Earth may be doomed to a sixth major extinction event and Mankind is significantly at risk of going the way of the dinosaurs.

So claim a team of worried scientists whose findings are published in the journal Nature.

The lead researcher, Professor Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley told the Daily Mail that “It looks like modern extinction rates resemble mass extinction rates, even after setting a high bar on defining mass extinction.”

The professor believes that numbers don’t lie and the meticulously gathered statistical proof throbs like a faltering heartbeat on every page of their study.

“If currently threatened species—those officially classed as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable—actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as three to 22 centuries,” he explained.

Past extinctions

Thankfully, mass extinctions do not happen very often. Over the past 540 million years just five such extinctions took place. The last, the Cretaceous event, occurred 65 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species including the most successful species that ever lived: the dinosaurs.

Recently, studies of mammalian populations have raised warning flags and point to the increasing possibility of a sixth mass extinction on the horizon. Comparing past extinction rates revealed in the fossil records has led a growing number of scientists to virtually recoil in horror over the swiftness of the current mammalian extinction rate. Whereas the old rate took many millennia, the current rate can be measured in mere centuries.

Evidence of accelerating extinction

The scientists raising the alarm claim an abundance of evidence supports their claim. One frightening fact they cite—over the last 500 years roughly 80 mammalian species mammals went extinct out of 5,570 species—screams out to be heard.

Each succeeding decade the evidence is mounting that human actions and interactions are leading to an irreversible mass extinction event. Humans are causing it, the scientists claim, by introducing non-native species to other parts of the world, thereby affecting the Earths’ delicate eco-balance; spreading new forms of diseases into areas previously protected from them; wantonly killing species into extinction; fragmenting the natural habitats of animals; and changing the environment, specifically the climate.

But it’s still not to late to halt the march towards extinction, Barnosky said. There’s still enough time to head off the loss of other species.

“So far, only one percent to two percent of all species have gone extinct in the groups we can look at clearly, so by those numbers, it looks like we are not far down the road to extinction. We still have a lot of Earth’s biota to save,” he explained.

“It’s very important to devote resources and legislation toward species conservation,” he added, “if we don’t want to be the species whose activity caused a mass extinction.”

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