World on Brink of 6th Great Extinction

Humanity has raised extinction rate a thousandfold

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted May 30, 2014 1:36 AM CDT | Updated May 30, 2014 7:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – Human activity is wiping out species of plants and animals at a dizzying rate, leaving the world on the verge of the sixth great extinction in its history, a new study warns. Researchers found that species are vanishing around 10 times faster than previously believed—and 1,000 times faster than they did before humans emerged, the AP reports. A mass extinction on the scale of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is close, and "whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions," says the lead researcher. Habitat loss is the main factor causing species to disappear, but climate change, overfishing, and the spread of invasive species also play a role.

But the situation isn't completely hopeless: Modern technology and "citizen scientists" are helping biologists locate endangered species, aiding efforts to save their habitats, the study author tells National Geographic. Thanks to mobile apps like iNaturalist and online crowdsourcing, "we know where the species are, we know where the threats are, and—even though the situation is very bleak—we are better able to manage things," he says. What can the average citizen do? A scientist not involved in the study suggests encouraging lawmakers to connect nature reserves to each other, and the study author notes that extinction rates of mammals, birds, and amphibians are 20% lower than they would be without protected refuges. About 13% of the planet's land has been designated as such; the same holds true for only about 2% of the ocean.

The Buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is listed as a vulnerable species because of habitat loss.
The Buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is listed as a vulnerable species because of habitat loss.   (AP Photo/Roberto de Lara Haddad)
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