A new study shows that human activity is causing a mass extinction, affecting many species. Specialists have drawn attention to the fact that what will happen in the next two decades will define the future of people.
Human activity is causing a mass extinction
The researchers who worked on the new study drew attention to the fact that human activity is changing the trajectory of evolution at the global level and destroying the conditions that make human life possible.
“It is an irreversible threat to the persistence of civilization and the habitability of future environments for Homo sapiens,” they claim.
According to experts, in the past few months, the sixth mass extinction has become devastatingly visible. Scores of seabirds died, shorelines littered with dead fish, and sea lions were poisoned by heat-induced algae blooms. Last year, entire penguin populations stopped breeding, and for many years researchers have been investigating an alarming reduction in insect life.
Thus, ecologist Gerardo Ceballos from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and biologist Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University assessed species extinctions since 1500 AD. and compared them with those of the last 500 million years. They found that humans have caused the extinction of 73 genera of animals with backbones over the past 500 years.
Human influence hastened the extinction by 18,000 years
This rate is 35 times higher than previous extinctions at the genus level. Genus is the taxonomic classification immediately above species, grouping the organisms most closely related to each other, like siblings, in a family tree.
According to the researchers, without human influence, it would have taken 18,000 years for the same number of genera to find their end. Other studies have found similarly high extinction rates for plants, fungi and invertebrates.
„[Cea de-a șasea extincție în masă] cause a rapid mutilation of the tree of life, where entire branches (collections of species, genera, families, and so on) and the functions they perform are lost,” the researchers explained.
The biosphere we live in is highly interconnected, so the loss of groups of species that perform certain functions can have serious cascading consequences.
“We and all other species have evolved together thriving within a stable tree of life,” Ceballos and Ehrlich said, explaining that the loss of entire ecological functions performed by groups of species directly affects us as well.
For example, the loss of mosquito-eating frogs has paralleled increases in malaria infections in Central America.
Researchers have warned that this rate of species loss will increase. If we continue on the current trajectory and all current endangered species disappear by the year 2100, the equivalent loss of 300 years since 1800 would have lasted 106,000 years at normal extinction levels.
The sixth mass extinction is much bigger than a massive catastrophe caused by climate change alone. From plastics, to pesticides, habitat loss and poaching, humans aren’t letting the environment catch a break.
“Immediate political, economic and social efforts on an unprecedented scale are essential if we are to prevent these extinctions and their impact on society,” Ceballos and Ehrlich said.
The researchers added that unlike the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs, humans can be aware of their actions and have the ability to change them. They explained that what happens in the next two decades will very likely define the future of biodiversity and people.