New Science and Technology

Scientists say we can avoid a mass extinction

April 29, 2016

The latest research from Yale University urges scientists to move their focus from species extinction to species rarity in order to recognize, and avoid, a mass extinction in todays world.

Earth has experienced more than fourteen mass extinction events, when the great diversity of life on Earth disappeared and was replaced by a flora or fauna often entirely unlike what had come before. The largest of these events (the most recent, which wiped out the world's dinosaurs, was about 65 million years ago) have collectively become known as the “Five Mass World Extinctions.” In recent years, Hull says, some have argued that Earth is entering a sixth mass extinction event. It also was the topic of E. Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Sixth Extinction.” 

The scientists say, for example, that the modern ocean is full of ecological “ghosts", which are species that are now so rare that they no longer fill the ecological roles they once did, when they were more abundant. In other words, species rarity itself, rather than extinction, can lead to a cascade of changes within our ecosystems, much before the species goes extinct, the scientists explain.

“There are steps to take to avoid a mass extinction-like record, even if there are signs of it,” Hull stated. “This makes it all the more urgent to act early to protect ecosystems and restore once-abundant species.”

New research also suggests that extinctions during the time of humans are worse than we thought.


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