The journal Nature recently reported that modern methods of measuring animal populations are too simple and often do not take into account the complexity of what influences species numbers. Professor Stephen Hubbell, from California, and Professor Fangliang He, from China, found that existing mathematical models for measurement were flawed: present figures overestimated rates by up to 160 percent, showing that calculations must be updated and made more accurate.
Nevertheless, Hubbell maintained although species extinction caused by habitat loss is not as dire a problem as initially believed, the global extinction crisis is still a real threat.
While there were predictions in the early 1980s that as many as half the species on Earth would be lost by the year 2000, Hubbell explained, "Nothing like that has happened. However, the next mass extinction may be upon us or just around the corner. There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, and we could be entering the sixth mass extinction."
Probably the most authoritative global assessment of species status is the Red List of Threatened Species, which is published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Jean Christophe Vie, IUCN's species program deputy director, responded it was good that this was a clear effort to "get the science right," but had reservations about how people would interpret it. He acknowledged to BBC News that he was worried about how the report could be used by those who were reluctant to take environmental issues seriously.
Addressing the issue, Hubbell cited a comparison: When a meteor struck the Earth some 65 million years ago, the Earth's tree life was incinerated, and it took about 10 million years to fully recover and redevelop into continuous, flourishing forests. Hubbell said that the extinctions humans cause might be equally catastrophic, though in different ways.
This article was first published in Peopleâ€™s World on May 23, 2011.
Author: Blake Deppe.