Holocene Extinction Is Coming Study Says

Credit: Image courtesy of Stanford University

Credit: Image courtesy of Stanford University

The recent study was published in Science Advances saying that the Holocene extinction is coming. It is the predicted 6th period of historical mass extinction marked by rapid loss of biodiversity largely caused by humans.

Scientist Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, along with his co-authors called for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species,” the authors write, “and to alleviate pressures on their populations — notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change.”

Via Stanford:

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita consumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

– Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement
– Introduction of invasive species
– Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification
– Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees’ crop pollination and wetlands’ water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study’s authors write. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,” Ehrlich said.

The full text of the study is available from this link.