The sixth mass extinction is underway. More than 500 species of vertebrates are under threat of extinction because of humans.
In 2015, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich was one of the co-authors of a study that predicted that a sixth mass extinction was on its way. Now, five years later, Ehrlich and his colleagues have analyzed the situation and concluded that the pace of extinction is probably much higher than previously thought.
In a new article published this Monday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reveal that wildlife trade and other human factors have driven species to extinction at an unprecedented rate.
Scientists have concluded that human activity, exponential population growth, invasion and destruction of ecosystems are now threatening the survival of more than 500 vertebrates.
“When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Ehrlich in a statement. “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions.”
“The ongoing sixth mass extinction may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilization, because it is irreversible,” said the researchers in the new study.
With this loss of strength, ecosystems are less and less able to preserve a stable climate, provide fresh water, pollinate crops, and protect humanity from natural disasters and diseases.
The researchers found that 515 species of terrestrial vertebrates – about 1.7% of all observed endangered species – are very close to disappearing. This means that there are less than 1,000 live specimens, with half of these species having fewer than 250 individuals.
“Thousands of populations of critically endangered vertebrate animal species have been lost in a century, indicating that the sixth mass extinction is human caused and accelerating,” said the scientists in the article.
“What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species,” said the study’s author, Gerardo Ceballos. “We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”
In addition to suggesting a global ban on trade in wild species, the study authors highlight the species and regions where conservation resources can best be targeted.
“The links between human health and wellbeing, and the health of our planet are well known,” said Rohan Clarke, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University in Australia, who was not involved in the study. “This research highlights the fragility of the Earth’s support systems and the urgent need to act.”