Earth is heading towards another mass extinction, humans to blame

The photo shows the Green-headed Tanager, a bird species in the process of extinction in some regions due to habitat loss. Photo credit: Mazinho BR (cc)

A new study warns that we are on the brink of another mass extinction, with species of animals and plants becoming extinct up to 1000 times faster than they did before humans populated Earth. “We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,” said Stuart Pimm, the study’s lead author and biologist of Duke University to AP. “Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

Great extinctions that have wiped out the majority of life has struck Earth at least five times before. The dinosaurs who walked the earth about 66 million years ago was wiped away in such a mass extinction. But while previous mass extinctions have been the result of asteroids or methane spewing microbes, this next great extinction will largely be the result of human activities.

The study notes how man-made climate change will cause a sudden rise in temperatures and acidification in our oceans making traditional habitats unlivable for countless of species - a phenomenon which can already be observed today.

The biggest cause for the mass extinction is habitat loss, the study says. Species are losing their home as more and more places are being built, developed and altered by humans. Other factors include overfishing and invasive species taking over new areas previously populated by native species.

That mass extinctions are occurring today is nothing new to scientists, but this study calculates not just the number of species being wiped away, it also shows the actual rate of extinction before and after humans. In 1995, scientists calculated that before humans populated the Earth, one out of 1 million species went extinct every year. Now, after new data and research, the rate is between 100 to 1000 species. But the trend can be reversed, Pimm notes. We need to find out where vulnerable species are located and preserve their habitats – before it’s too late.

Read the study: The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection


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