Has Mass Extinction number Six already Started?

K/T extinction event theory. An artist's depic...

K/T extinction event theory. An artist’s depiction of the asteroid impact 65 million years ago that many scientists say is the most direct cause of the dinosaurs’ disappearance http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/dino/ultimate.jsp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In what can hardly be seen as welcome news, an international team of scientists is reported as fearing that our planet might well now be in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction event, and the whole process is being speeded up by human thoughtlessness and greed, as the natural world, with all of those incredible animals and plants, is ever more threatened by human intervention..

When one considers land vertebrates alone, in excess of 320 species have vanished over the last five centuries, and this trend carries through to all every genre of plant and life on earth. We are all aware of the last time a gigantic meteor strike causing the disappearance of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, but that was all-natural.

This time is very different, and according to California based Stanford University professor of biology Rodolfo Dirzo, this imminent sixth mass extinction is inextricably linked to human activity, and is now unstoppable. An earlier study based on  fossil record and modern-day conservation biology, suggested that this would start to happen  within the next 300 to 2,000 years, but Dirzo said that was wrong, because things are already moving that way.

With almost 35% of all vertebrates threatened or endangered, especially the larger animals, rates of decline are likely to accelerate, if previous mass extinctions are anything to go by. Larger creatures – like the dinosaurs – tend to produce fewer offspring and lower rates of population growth. When this is exacerbated as much as it is by human predation, it becomes easy to see that within 100 years at most, things like Elephants, Tigers, Lions and Rhinocerous will simply no longer be found in the wild.

Worse still, when the roving herds of  grazers and foliage eaters are decimated, the knock-on effect id disastrous for humanity, due to the process known as defaunation. With no such animals around, grass and shrubs grow unrestricted and rodent numbers grow exponentially. Since these creatures can carry diseases and parasites that infect people,the risks of disease transmission increase dramatically.

With human numbers having doubled in only two generations, a trend that is not habitat destruction and global climate change. Where an earth existed, pre-humanity, where extinctions happened at a much slower pace, post human intervention, the rate has gone literally sky-high.

Dirzo commented that it may be possible, with a truly gigantic and sustained global approach, to slow down the rate at which this sixth mass extinction occurs, but that is something that has been thought about for decades now without any real action being taken.

Vital habitats need to be protected and human populations all over the world need to tailor their approaches to each unique region with proper regard for the wildlife there. This might just help to ensure that our great-grandchildren get to see those animals in the flesh, though the irreplaceable loss of critical ecosystem functioning, in which animals play a central role, has to be also addressed as a matter of urgency. The clock is ticking loudly, and time is not on our side.

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  1. TheBrit

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