Land vertebrates may be dying out faster than previously thought, according to a team of researchers.
According to the paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, human pressures – such as wildlife trade and habitat destruction – have led to hundreds of extinctions and pushed many more to the brink of extinction.
One of the authors of the latest paper is Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford university biologist who in 2015 took part in a study that claimed the earth was currently experiencing its sixth mass extinction. Now, Elleach and colleagues warn that this “human-caused” mass extinction “may be accelerating,” leading to the degradation of vital ecosystem services and the disintegration of ecosystems’ biodiversity.
“The acceleration of the extinction crisis is certain because the human population and rate of consumption are still increasing rapidly,” they said. In addition, species are the link in an ecosystem, and when the link breaks, the species that interact with it may also disappear. Where there is a concentration of lost species, regional biodiversity may be collapsing.”
Ecosystems from coral reefs to jungles rely on complex networks of long-evolving species to stay healthy. But once key species disappear, the functioning of these ecosystems may be impaired, impairing their ability to provide services vital to humans, such as pollinating crops and acting as a shield against natural disasters or disease.
“We conclude that the sixth human-induced mass extinction may be accelerating for several reasons,” the authors write. First, many species that are already endangered may soon become extinct. Second, the distribution of these species coincides with that of hundreds of other endangered species, all surviving in areas of high human activity, suggesting that regional biodiversity is collapsing. Third, because of close ecological interactions, endangered species tend to push others to extinction when they disappear — and extinction leads to extinction. Finally, the human pressure on the biosphere is increasing rapidly.”