35 times more species going extinct than a million years ago

Scientists claim not just species but entire genera are vanishing.
Sejal Sharma
Image of a goat skull on dry ground
We are losing more species than ever before


Animals going extinct is part of evolution. Over the last 100 years, it is estimated that we have lost up to 500 species. This typically is a result of climate change, which leads to the inability of a species to adapt to changes in the environment.

A few of the species that have gone extinct include the Paradise Parrot, Sicilian Wolf, Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Japanese Sea Lion, Tasmanian Tiger, and Carolina Parakeet, among many others. 

Throughout history, there have been certain periods that have led to a more extensive loss of species – these are called mass extinctions. In a mass extinction, at least 75% of species go extinct within a relatively short period of time. Typically, it is less than two million years.

Many scientists believe that the Earth is currently in its sixth mass extinction event. This period has primarily been brought on by human activity.

A new startling study has claimed that we are not only losing species but entire genera (plural for genus) of animals. An analysis from Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) shows that in the last five centuries, human activities like deforestation, urbanization, and agricultural practices have triggered a surge of genus extinctions that would have otherwise taken 18,000 years to accumulate. Scientists are calling this phenomenon ‘biological annihilation.’

Mutilation of the tree of life

The scientists also said in their study that vertebrates are going extinct 35 times more than they did in the last million years. With human activities, Earth would have only lost two genera during that time, claim the researchers.

A genus is a group of animals that are very similar and most likely have a common ancestor. In contrast, a species is just one type of animal. For example, the genus called Equus has seven species under it. These include two species of horses, three species of donkeys, and three species of zebras.

Scientists have found that the entire genera are vanishing. They are calling this a “mutilation of the tree of life.”

“In the long term, we’re putting a big dent in the evolution of life on the planet,” said Gerardo Ceballos, senior researcher at the Institute of Ecology at UNAM. “But also, in this century, what we’re doing to the tree of life will cause a lot of suffering for humanity.”

“What we’re losing are our only known living companions in the entire universe,” said Paul Ehrlich, bing professor of population studies, emeritus, at Stanford.

These two scientists studied 5,400 genera of vertebrate animals, which had a total of 34,600 species. They found that 73 genera of vertebrates have gone extinct since 1500 AD. This was followed by birds, which lost 44 genera, followed by mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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