Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines

| July 10, 2017 | Leave a Comment

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Date of Publication: May 23, 2017

Year of Publication: 2017

Publisher: National Academy of Science

Author(s): Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Rodolfo Dirzo

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Volume: Early Edition

Pages: 1-8

Categories: , , ,

Ceballos, Ehrlich, and Dirzo demonstrate how assessments of Earth’s sixth mass extinction that focus on species level extinctions are actually underestimates. Alternatively, in this article the authors quantitatively consider population level extinctions.

“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.”

ABSTRACT: The population extinction pulse we describe here shows, from a quantitative viewpoint, that Earth’s sixth mass extinction is more severe than perceived when looking exclusively at species extinctions. Therefore, humanity needs to address anthropogenic population extirpation and decimation immediately. That conclusion is based on analyses of the numbers and degrees of range contraction (indicative of population shrinkage and/or population extinctions according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) using a sample of 27,600 vertebrate species, and on a more detailed analysis documenting the population extinctions between 1900 and 2015 in 177 mammal species. We find that the rate of population loss in terrestrial vertebrates is extremely high—even in “species of low concern.” In our sample, comprising nearly half of known vertebrate species, 32% (8,851/27,600) are decreasing; that is, they have decreased in population size and range. In the 177 mammals for which we have detailed data, all have lost 30% or more of their geographic ranges and more than 40% of the species have experienced severe population declines (>80% range shrinkage). 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. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.

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