Global Extinction Crisis … Are We Next?

By David L. Brown

The loss of biodiversity through the extinction of species is a significant concern for our planet. The seriousness of the situation is underlined by this excerpt is from an article that appeared in SCIENCE magazine, by J. A. Thomas et al., 19 March 2004, titled “Comparative Losses of British Butterflies, Birds, and Plants and the Global Extinction Crisis:”

There is growing concern about increased population, regional, and global extinctions of species. A key question is whether extinction rates for one group of organisms are representative of other taxa. We present a comparison at the national scale of population and regional extinctions of birds, butterflies, and vascular plants from Britain in recent decades. Butterflies experienced the greatest net losses, disappearing on average from 13% of their previously occupied 10-kilometer squares. If insects elsewhere in the world are similarly sensitive, the known global extinction rates of vertebrate and plant species have an unrecorded parallel among the invertebrates, strengthening the hypothesis that the natural world is experiencing the sixth major extinction event in its history.

The phrases “Global extinction crisis” and “sixth major extinction event in its history” should galvanize the attention of anyone having an interest in the future of the Earth. Indeed, species loss has been accelerating over the past centuries and has reached a cataclysmic level. By some estimates as many as 50-100 species are becoming extinct every day.

As species disappear from the Earth, the planet becomes a poorer place. Biodiversity is the key to a healthy environment, and that diversity is being steadily chipped away by the loss of species. One cannot escape the poignant question: When will it be the turn of humankind to join the long list of extinct species? It’s a question worth thinking about, and a subject we will be visiting on a regular basis.

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