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article imageBiologists warn earth facing 6th mass extinction

By Martin Laine     Jul 26, 2014 in Science
A group of biologists is warning that the growing loss of species may mean that the planet is in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction. Another group of scientists say extreme and controversial methods may be needed to slow the rate of extinction.
According to an article on the Science Daily website, an international team of scientists reviewed information collected over the past 600 years. They found that even though the current level of biodiversity is the highest in the history of the planet, it may have reached a tipping point and is beginning to plunge toward a mass extinction.
Their study has been published in the journal Science.
Since 1500, 325 terrestrial vertebrates — animals with backbones that live on land — have gone extinct. Among all other species, there has been an average 25 percent rate of decline.
Whereas earlier extinctions were the result of asteroid strikes and other natural events, pre-dating the presence of humans, this time around, human activity is playing a major role, prompting Prof. Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University to call this new era “Anthropocene defaunation” — or, roughly translated, “human-generated loss of animal life.”
The most threatened species are large animals such as elephants and polar bears, because they produce fewer offspring. They also require large habitats and make attractive targets for human hunters. As these animals are lost, smaller disease-carrying rodents move in to take their place, causing yet more species loss.
The scientists also uncovered another disturbing trend.
The human population has doubled over the past 35 years, and during that same period invertebrates such as beetles, worms, butterflies and spiders have declined by 45 percent. These invertebrates play key roles in pollinations and decomposition of organic matter necessary to maintain productive plant life.
In a separate study, a group of scientists are suggesting that a radical new approach is needed to save endangered species, according an article on the Science Daily website. They say that the current practice of keeping these species in protected areas away from humans is impractical. Instead, it may be necessary to introduce these species into new areas. In some cases, they may have to co-exist with human populations.
Conservation translocation, as it’s called, could be a “powerful means to reconnect people to their natural heritage, to engage them as conservation partners, and make them stewards of the wild animals and habitat around them,” said Prof. Phillip Seddon of the University of Otago, a co-author of the study.
The challenge, he said, is determining which species to move, and to find a habitat where it can thrive without disrupting the existing ecosystem and preventing any unintended consequences.
More about mass extinction, conservation translocation, anthropocene defaunation
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