The Sixth Mass Extinction


Off and on the last month, I’ve posted about various issues on climate change and related topics.  Today, Life Science published an article entitled “Extinction Rates Soar to 1,000 Times Normal (But There’s Hope)”.  What causes this enormous spike?  You guessed it.  Humans.

Before recently, the extinction rate was one per every ten million annually.  Now it is 100-1000 every million.  Where do researchers and scientists find hope in this adverse increase?  Let’s look at Earth’s history for a moment before answering that question.  Since life began on our planet, five mass extinctions have occurred, leaving only half of living organisms each time.  Reasons for these extinctions vary from Earth’s shifting axis to asteroids–see previous posts related to effects of changes in the Earth’s axis.  The big question:  how do humans affect the current extinction?       Yes, we caused the demise of the passenger pigeon, the Tasmanian tiger, and the dodo bird.  And human poaching and habitat destruction now endanger elephants, rhinos, and all subspecies of tigers, among others.  One problem in accurately determining human effects is that new species are discovered annually so we are not even sure how many species currently exist.  Using what we do know about current species, DNA, and some rather sophisticated techniques, scientists come up extinction rates.

Where is the hope?  The most endangered species tend to range in small areas in poorer countries lacking resources to protect them.  Modern technology can help, using satellite imagery, biodiversity mapping, as well as other methods.  Drones have been used in Africa to track both animals and poachers.  We can focus efforts on the areas where the most endangered species live.

How can you help?  Become a citizen scientist.  Use your smartphone camera and report your findings to scientific conservation groups.  A site called iNaturalist allows ordinary individuals to upload photos of plants and animals, tagging date, location, etc.  This site links to an international organization that tracks endangered and threatened species.

What else can you do:  don’t buy anything with ivory in it, don’t buy anything with the fur or body parts of endangered animals.  Spread the word.  Become more informed, read articles and books related to these topics.  Care.  This is the only Earth; help save it.

 

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