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Study finds Earth is on verge of ‘the 6th extinction’
WASHINGTON (AP) — Species of plants and animals are
becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did
before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the
brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.
The study looks at past and present rates of extinction and
finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought.
Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times
faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author
noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.
“We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,” Pimm said
from research at the Dry Tortugas. “Whether we avoid it or
not will depend on our actions.”
The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was
hailed as a landmark study by outside experts.
Pimm’s study focused on the rate, not the number, of
species disappearing from Earth. It calculated a “death rate”
of how many species become extinct each year out of 1
In 1995, Pimm found that the pre-human rate of extinctions
on Earth was about 1. But taking into account new research,
Pimm and his colleagues refined that background rate to
Now, that death rate is about 100 to 1,000, Pimm said.
Numerous factors are combining to make species disappear
much faster than before, said Pimm and co-author Clinton
Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil. But
the No. 1 issue is habitat loss. Species are finding no place to
live as more places are built up and altered by humans.
Add to that invasive species crowding out native species,
climate change affecting where species can survive, and
overfishing, Pimm said.
The buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is a good example, Jenkins
said. Its habitat has shrunk because of development in
Brazil, and a competing marmoset has taken over where it
lives. Now ,it’s on the international vulnerable list.
The oceanic white-tip shark used to be one of the most
abundant predators on Earth and they have been hunted so
much they are now rarely seen, said Dalhousie University
marine biologist Boris Worm, who wasn’t part of the study
but praised it. “If we don’t do anything, this will go the way
of the dinosaurs.”
Five times, a vast majority of the world’s life has been
snuffed out in what have been called mass extinctions, often
associated with giant meteor strikes. About 66 million years
ago, one such extinction killed off the dinosaurs and three
out of four species on Earth. Around 252 million years ago,
the Great Dying snuffed out about 90 percent of the world’s
Pimm and Jenkins said there is hope. Both said the use of
smartphones and applications such as iNaturalist will help
ordinary people and biologists find species in trouble, they
said. Once biologists know where endangered species are
they can try to save habitats and use captive breeding and
other techniques to save the species, they said.
One success story is the golden lion tamarin. Decades ago
the tiny primates were thought to be extinct because of
habitat loss, but they were then found in remote parts of
Brazil, bred in captivity and biologists helped set aside new
forests for them to live in, Jenkins said.
“Now there are more tamarins than there are places to put
them,” he said.
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