Earth Has Entered First 'Mass Extinction' Since Dinosaurs, Study Warns

Earth Has Entered First 'Mass Extinction' Since Dinosaurs, Study Warns

The Earth has entered its sixth mass extinction phase, a new study warns, and the time we have to avoid dramatic consequences is rapidly running out.

Vertebrates -- which include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish -- are disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal, according the study published Friday in the journal Science Advances. The study, led by Stanford, Princeton and the University of California-Berkeley, stated the number of vertebrate species that have gone extinct in the last century normally take 800 to 10,000 years to disappear under natural extinction rates.

"These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way," the researchers wrote. The last such extinction was 65 million years ago, The Telegraph noted, when dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the planet.

Human activity related to development and climate change are exacerbating the problem, the study argued.

"Our analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years," the researchers wrote. "Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species and to alleviate pressures on their populations -- notably habitat loss, overexploitation for economic gain, and climate change ... However, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing."

The study found that given these extinctions, the benefits of biodiversity like crop pollination and water purification could disappear in as little as three lifetimes, putting the human species in serious danger before others.

"If it is allowed to continue," lead study author Gerardo Ceballos told BBC News, "life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on."

Before You Go

West African Black Rhinoceros
The West African black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) was a subspecies of the black rhino that was declared extinct in 2011.

The subspecies last existed in Cameroon, but an extensive survey in 2006 did not find any signs of living West African black rhinos. According to the IUCN, "it is highly probable that this subspecies is now extinct" thanks to increased poaching and demand for rhino horn.
Pyrenean Ibex
The Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) was a subspecies of the Iberian wild goat that went extinct in 2000.

Once found throughout the French, Spanish and Andorran Pyrenees, the population was severely thinned by hunting.

In 2009, scientists were able to clone a female Pyrenean ibex using DNA from preserved skin samples. Due to lung defects, the ibex died shortly after birth, according to The Telegraph.
Passenger Pigeon
The passenger pigeon may have once constituted 25 to 40 percent of the bird population in what is now the U.S., according to the Smithsonian Institution. As many as 3 to 5 billion of these birds were alive when Europeans arrived.

The birds' traditional habitats were the large forests of eastern North America. As settlers cleared the forests for farmland, the pigeons turned to the new fields for subsistence.

"The large flocks of passenger pigeons often caused serious damage to the crops, and the farmers retaliated by shooting the birds and using them as a source of meat," explains the Smithsonian.

The 19th century brought widespread hunting and trapping of the birds, which severely diminished their populations. The last passenger pigeon, named "Martha," died at age 29 at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
The Quagga (Equus quagga ssp. quagga) was a subspecies of the common plains zebra and a native of South Africa. Known for its unique stripes, the Quagga was hunted for its hide and killed by ranchers who believed the animals competed with livestock for grazing area, according to PBS.

The last known Quagga died at the Amsterdam Zoo in 1883.
Caribbean Monk Seal
Last seen in the early 1950s, the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) was declared extinct in 2008 after a five-year review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service. The seals had been hunted by European explorers who began arriving in the late 15th century, according to NOAA. They were later exploited for their fur, meat and oil by fisherman and whalers. Coastal development and fishing also impacted their traditional habitats in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

"Humans left the Caribbean monk seal population unsustainable after overhunting them in the wild," a NOAA biologist said in 2008, according to Science Daily. "Unfortunately, this lead to their demise and labels the species as the only seal to go extinct from human causes."
Sea Mink
New York State Museum
The sea mink (Neovison macrodon) once lived along the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick, but was prized for its fur and was hunted to extinction in the second half of the 19th century.

(Image: New York State Museum)
Tasmanian Tiger
Know as Tasmanian tigers due to their stripes, thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus) were the largest modern carnivorous marsupial according to the Smithsonian Institution.

They once existed across the Australian continent, but their habitat had been reduced to the island of Tasmania by the time European settlers arrived.

According the National Museum of Australia:
Thylacines were believed to kill livestock and were often shot and trapped. They were a convenient scapegoat for poor financial returns and high stock losses at a time of rural depression in Tasmania.

Thylacines were declared a protected species in 1936, the same year the last known specimen died. Unconfirmed sightings of Tasmanian tigers continue to this day.

Using preserved specimens, a team at Pennsylvania State University has successfully sequenced the animal's mitochondrial DNA.
Tecopa Pupfish
The Tecopa pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis calidae) was native to the Mojave desert in California and could survive in waters as warm as 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

Human development around the Tecopa Hot Springs in the mid-20th century and the channelling of two springs together left the habitat unsuitable for the small fish.

The Tecopa pupfish became extinct by 1970 or soon after.
Javan Tiger
The Javan tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. sondaica) was a tiger subspecies that likely became extinct in the mid-1970s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Hunting and a loss of forest habitat led to their demise.

Although the tiger was last seen in 1976, the head of East Java's Meru Betiri National Park announced in 2011 that he was "optimistic" that Javan tigers were still alive, according to the Jakarta Globe. Camera traps were set up in hopes of confirming any tiger sightings.
Great Auk
The great auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a flightless coastal bird that bred on rocky islands around the North Atlantic, including in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles and Scandinavia.

They were slaughtered in huge numbers until the late 18th century, according to the British Natural History Museum. Although hunting declined, the rare birds became a prized specimen for collectors and they were driven to extinction by the mid-1850s.

In this photo, Dan Gordon, Keeper of Biology at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, holds a stuffed juvenile Great Auk at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
Bubal Hartebeest
The Bubal hartebeest, or Bubal antelope, (Alcelaphus buselaphus ssp. buselaphus) was a subspecies of African antelope that lived in North Africa.

The animals were hunted to extinction and the last known Bubal hartebeest was killed in Algeria sometime between 1945 and 1954, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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