We Can’t Stop Our Planet’s Next Mass Extinction, Researchers Say

By Jennifer Ferreira

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TORONTO (CTV Network) — Not only is Earth in the midst of its next mass extinction event, but it may be too late to undo the damage inflicted on the planet’s species. That’s according to a new study assessing the evidence for what it calls an “ongoing extinction event.”

The study was published in Biological Reviews and conducted by biologists from the University of Hawaii and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. While researchers say conservation initiatives have been put in place to combat the crisis and protect some species, the study suggests the damage has already been done.

“These initiatives cannot target all species, and they cannot reverse the general trend of species extinction,” reads a press release accompanying the study.

Robert Cowie is the study’s lead author and a research professor at the University of Hawaii at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center in Manoa. He and the co-authors of the study estimate that since the year 1500, no less than 7.5 to 13% of the two million known species on Earth have already disappeared. This translates to between 150,000 and 260,000 species. These figures were extrapolated from estimates obtained for land snails and slugs.

“The inclusion of invertebrates was critical to confirming that we are indeed witnessing the start of the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history,” Cowie said in the press release.

According to experts, there have been five mass biodiversity extinction events in Earth’s history, each wiping out between 70 and 95 percent of plant, animal and microorganism species. The most recent dates back 66 million years and led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Each was caused by natural phenomena.

The idea that the world is facing another mass extinction event is not new, with previous studies showing that the rate at which the world’s species are dying has accelerated in recent decades. Research also suggests that this latest crisis is entirely caused by human activities. GREATER IMPACT ON ANIMALS THAN ON PLANTS

Based on the study, extinction appears to affect different populations of species in different ways depending on their habitat.

“Although marine species face significant threats, there is no evidence that the crisis is affecting the oceans to the same extent as land,” the press release said.

Additionally, island species, such as those that inhabit the Hawaiian Islands, are more affected by extinction events than mainland species, and the extinction rate of plant species appears to be lower than that of terrestrial animals.

The study analyzes many other surveys of plant extinctions in different parts of the world, noting that these searches have generally produced low numbers. About 0.55% of the overall flora of Mediterranean Europe disappeared, for example, while 2% of the native flora of Europe and Israel disappeared. The researchers also note that when examining studies comparing local extinction rates between taxonomic groups, it appears that “plants generally have lower extinction rates than invertebrates.”

Although this has yet to be demonstrated globally, the researchers said it is possible that plants indeed have a lower rate of extinction than animals. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

A mass extinction event typically involves the loss of at least 75% of species. Although the study noted that the current extinction crisis has not yet reached such a high rate of extinction, it is still possible that it will happen in the future, and scientists say it is in happening right now.

Going forward, the study researchers say conservation efforts must be maintained to prevent further damage to the species, and that more research on existing species must be prioritized.

“The biodiversity that makes our world so fascinating, beautiful and functional is disappearing unnoticed at an unprecedented rate,” the study says. “Faced with a worsening crisis, scientists must adopt the practices of preventive archeology, collecting and documenting as many species as possible before they disappear.

“To deny the crisis, to simply accept it and do nothing, or even to embrace it for the ostensible benefit of humanity, are not appropriate options and pave the way for the Earth to continue on its sad trajectory towards a sixth mass extinction.”

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