Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction
Anthropocene extinction, is the ongoing extinction event of species
during the present
Holocene epoch, mainly as a result of human
activity. The large number of extinctions spans numerous families
of plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles
and arthropods. With widespread degradation of highly biodiverse
habitats such as coral reefs and rainforest, as well as other areas,
the vast majority of these extinctions is thought to be undocumented.
The current rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000
times higher than natural background rates.
Holocene extinction includes the disappearance of large land
animals known as megafauna, starting at the end of the last Ice Age.
Megafauna outside of the African continent, which did not evolve
alongside humans, proved highly sensitive to the introduction of new
predation, and many died out shortly after early humans began
spreading and hunting across the Earth (additionally, many African
species have also gone extinct in the Holocene). These extinctions,
occurring near the Pleistocene–
Holocene boundary, are sometimes
referred to as the
Quaternary extinction event.
The arrival of humans on different continents coincides with
megafaunal extinction. The most popular theory is that human
overhunting of species added to existing stress conditions. Although
there is debate regarding how much human predation affected their
decline, certain population declines have been directly correlated
with human activity, such as the extinction events of
New Zealand and
Hawaii. Aside from humans, climate change may have been a driving
factor in the megafaunal extinctions, especially at the end of the
The ecology of humanity has been noted as being that of an
unprecedented "global superpredator" that regularly preys on the
adults of other apex predators and has worldwide effects on food webs.
Extinctions of species have occurred on every land mass and ocean,
with many famous examples within Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia,
North and South America, and on smaller islands. Overall, the Holocene
extinction can be characterized by the human impact on the
Holocene extinction continues into the 21st century,
with meat consumption, overfishing, ocean acidification and the
decline in amphibian populations being a few broader examples of an
almost universal, cosmopolitan decline in biodiversity. Human
overpopulation (and continued population growth) along with profligate
consumption are considered to be the primary drivers of this rapid
2.1 Competition by humans
18.104.22.168 New Zealand
2.2 Climate change
2.2.1 Megafaunal extinction
3.2 Recent extinction
3.3 Habitat destruction
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Holocene extinction is also known as the "sixth extinction", due
to its possibly being the sixth mass extinct event, after the
Silurian extinction events, the Late
Triassic extinction event, the Triassic–Jurassic
extinction event, and the Cretaceous–
event. Mass extinctions are characterized by the
loss of at least 75% of species within a geologically short period of
time. There is no general agreement on where the Holocene, or
anthropogenic, extinction begins, and the
Quaternary extinction event,
which includes climate change resulting in the end of the last ice
age, ends, or if they should be considered separate events at
all. Some have suggested that anthropogenic extinctions may
have begun as early as when the first modern humans spread out of
Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, which is supported by
rapid megafaunal extinction following recent human colonisation in
New Zealand and Madagascar, in a similar way that any
large, adaptable predator moving into a new ecosystem would (invasive
species). In many cases, it is suggested even minimal hunting pressure
was enough to wipe out large fauna, particularly on geographically
isolated islands. Only during the most recent parts of the
extinction have plants also suffered large losses.
In The Future of Life (2002), Edward Osborne Wilson of Harvard
calculated that, if the current rate of human disruption of the
biosphere continues, one-half of Earth's higher lifeforms will be
extinct by 2100. A 1998 poll conducted by the American Museum of
Natural History found that seventy percent of biologists acknowledge
an ongoing anthropogenic extinction event. At present, the rate of
extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than
the background extinction rate, the historically typical rate of
extinction (in terms of the natural evolution of the planet)
and also the current rate of extinction is, therefore, 10 to 100 times
higher than any of the previous mass extinctions in the history of
Earth. One scientist estimates the current extinction rate may be
10,000 times the background extinction rate. Nevertheless, most
scientists predict a much lower extinction rate than this outlying
Stuart Pimm stated, for plants,
the extinction rate is 100 times higher than normal.
In a pair of studies published in 2015, extrapolation from observed
extinction of Hawaiian snails led to the conclusion that 7% of all
species on Earth may have been lost already.
While there is widespread consensus in the scientific community that
human activity is accelerating the extinction of many animal species
through the destruction of wild lands, the consumption of animals as
resources or luxuries, and the persecution of species that humans view
as threats or competitors, some contend that this biotic
destruction has yet to rise to the level of the previous five mass
extinctions. Stuart Pimm, for example, asserts that the sixth mass
extinction "is something that hasn’t happened yet – we are on the
edge of it." In November 2017, a statement, titled "World
Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice," led by eight
authors and signed by 15,364 scientists from 184 countries asserted
that, among other things, "we have unleashed a mass extinction event,
the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life
forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the
end of this century."
Main article: Anthropocene
A diagram showing the ecological processes of coral reefs before and
after the Anthropocene
The abundance of species extinctions considered anthropogenic, or due
to human activity, have sometimes (especially when referring to
hypothesized future events) been collectively called the "Anthropocene
extinction". "Anthropocene" is a term introduced in 2000.
It is now posited by some that a new geological epoch has begun,
characterised by the most abrupt and widespread extinction of species
since the Cretaceous–
Paleogene extinction event 66 million years
The term "anthropocene" is being used more frequently by scientists,
and some commentators may refer to the current and projected future
extinctions as part of a longer
Holocene extinction. The
Anthropocene boundary is contested, with some commentators
asserting significant human influence on climate for much of what is
normally regarded as the
Holocene Epoch. Other commentators place
Anthropocene boundary at the industrial revolution
while also saying that, "[f]ormal adoption of this term in the near
future will largely depend on its utility, particularly to earth
scientists working on late
It has been suggested that human activity has made the period
following the mid-20th century different enough from the rest of the
Holocene to consider it a new geological epoch, known as the
Anthropocene, which was considered for implementation into the
timeline of Earth's history by the International Commission on
Stratigraphy in 2016. In order to constitute the
an extinction event, scientists must determine exactly when
anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions began to measurably alter
natural atmospheric levels at a global scale and when these
alterations caused changes to global climate. Employing chemical
proxies from Antarctic ice cores, researchers have estimated the
fluctuations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane gases (CH4) in the
earth’s atmosphere for the late
Based on studies that estimated fluctuations of carbon dioxide and
methane in the atmosphere using chemical proxies from Antarctic ice
cores, general argumentation of when the peak of the Anthropocene
occurred pertains to the timeframe within the previous two centuries;
typically beginning with the Industrial Revolution, when greenhouse
gas levels were recorded by contemporary methods at its
Competition by humans
See also: Megafaunal mass extinctions and
Quaternary extinction event
The percent of megafauna on different land masses over time, with the
arrival of humans indicated.
Holocene extinction is mainly caused by human
Extinction of animals, plants, and other
organisms caused by human actions may go as far back as the late
Pleistocene, over 12,000 years ago. There is a correlation between
megafaunal extinction and the arrival of humans, and human
overpopulation and human population growth, along with overconsumption
and consumption growth, most prominently in the past two centuries,
are regarded as one of the underlying causes of
Megafauna were once found on every continent of the world and large
islands such as
New Zealand and Madagascar, but are now almost
exclusively found on the continent of Africa, with notable comparisons
Australia and the islands previously mentioned experiencing
population crashes and trophic cascades shortly after the earliest
human settlers. It has been suggested that the African
megafauna survived because they evolved alongside humans. The
timing of South American megafaunal extinction appears to precede
human arrival, although the possibility that human activity at the
time impacted the global climate enough to cause such an extinction
has been suggested.
It has been noted, in the face of such evidence, that humans are
unique in ecology as an unprecedented 'global superpredator',
regularly preying on large numbers of fully grown terrestrial and
marine apex predators, and with a great deal of influence over food
webs and climatic systems worldwide. Although significant debate
exists as to how much human predation and indirect effects contributed
to prehistoric extinctions, certain population crashes have been
directly correlated with human arrival.
The dodo, a flightless bird native to Mauritius, became extinct during
the mid- to late
17th century due to habitat destruction and predation
by introduced mammals.
Human civilization flourished in accordance to the efficiency and
intensification of prevailing subsistence systems. Local
communities that acquire more subsistence strategies increased in
number to combat competitive pressures of land utilization.
Holocene developed competition on the basis of
agriculture. The growth of agriculture has then introduced newer means
of climate change, pollution, and ecological development.
Habitat destruction by humans, including oceanic devastation, such as
through overfishing and contamination; and the modification and
destruction of vast tracts of land and river systems around the world
to meet solely human-centered ends (with 13 percent of Earth's
ice-free land surface now used as row-crop agricultural sites, 26
percent used as pastures, and 4 percent urban-industrial areas),
thus replacing the original local ecosystems. Other, related human
causes of the extinction event include deforestation, hunting,
pollution, the introduction in various regions of non-native
species, and the widespread transmission of infectious diseases spread
through livestock and crops.
Recent investigations about hunter-gatherer landscape burning has a
major implication for the current debate about the timing of the
Anthropocene and the role that humans may have played in the
production of greenhouse gases prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Studies on early hunter-gatherers raises questions about the current
use of population size or density as a proxy for the amount of land
clearance and anthropogenic burning that took place in pre-industrial
times. Scientists have questioned the correlation between
population size and early territorial alterations. Ruddiman and
Ellis' research paper in 2009 makes the case that early farmers
involved in systems of agriculture used more land per capita than
growers later in the Holocene, who intensified their labor to produce
more food per unit of area (thus, per laborer); arguing that
agricultural involvement in rice production implemented thousands of
years ago by relatively small populations have created significant
environmental impacts through large-scale means of deforestation.
While a number of human-derived factors are recognized as potentially
contributing to rising atmospheric concentrations of CH4 and CO2,
deforestation and territorial clearance practices associated with
agricultural development may be contributing most to these
concentrations globally. Scientists that are employing a
variance of archaeological and paleoecological data argue that the
processes contributing to substantial human modification of the
environment spanned many thousands of years ago on a global scale and
thus, not originating as early as the Industrial Revolution. Gaining
popularity on his uncommon hypothesis, palaeoclimatologist William
Ruddiman in 2003, stipulated that in the early
Holocene 11,000 years
ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels fluctuated in a
pattern which was different from the
Pleistocene epoch before
it. He argued that the patterns of the significant decline
of CO2 levels during the last ice age of the
correlates to the
Holocene where there have been dramatic increases of
CO2 around 8000 years ago and CH4 levels 3000 years after that.
The correlation between the decrease of CO2 in the
Pleistocene and the
increase of it during the
Holocene implies that the causation of this
spark of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was the growth of human
agriculture during the
Holocene such as the anthropogenic expansion of
(human) land use and irrigation.
Human arrival in the Caribbean around 6,000 years ago is correlated
with the extinction of many species. Examples include many
different genera of ground and arboreal sloths across all islands.
These sloths were generally smaller than those found on the South
Megalocnus were the largest genus at up to 90
kilograms (200 lb),
Acratocnus were medium-sized relatives of
modern two-toed sloths endemic to Cuba,
Imagocnus also of Cuba,
Neocnus and many others.
Recent research, based on archaeological and paleontological digs on
70 different Pacific islands has shown that numerous species became
extinct as people moved across the Pacific, starting 30,000 years ago
Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands. It is currently
estimated that among the bird species of the Pacific, some 2000
species have gone extinct since the arrival of humans, representing a
20% drop in the biodiversity of birds worldwide.
Genyornis newtoni, a 2-metre (7 ft) tall flightless bird. Evidence of
egg cooking in this species is the first evidence of megafaunal
hunting by humans on Australia.
The first settlers are thought to have arrived in the islands between
300 and 800 CE, with European arrival in the 16th century. Hawaii is
notable for its endemism of plants, birds, insects, mollusks and fish;
30% of its organisms are endemic. Many of its species are endangered
or have gone extinct, primarily due to accidentally introduced species
and livestock grazing. Over 40% of its bird species have gone extinct,
and it is the location of 75% of extinctions in the United States.
Extinction has increased in Hawaii over the last 200 years and is
relatively well documented, with extinctions among native snails used
as estimates for global extinction rates.
Main articles: Australian megafauna,
List of extinct animals
List of extinct animals of
Australia, and List of extinct flora of Australia
Invasive species in Australia, Land clearing in Australia,
and Fire-stick farming
Australia was once home to a large assemblage of megafauna, with many
parallels to those found on the
African continent today. Australia's
fauna is characterised by primarily marsupial mammals, and many
reptiles and birds, all existing as giant forms until recently. Humans
arrived on the continent very early, about 50,000 years ago. The
extent human arrival contributed is controversial; climatic drying of
Australia 40,000–60,000 years ago was an unlikely cause, as it was
less severe in speed or magnitude than previous regional climate
change which failed to kill off megafauna. Extinctions in Australia
continued from original settlement until today in both plants and
animals, whilst many more animals and plants have declined or are
Due to the older timeframe and the soil chemistry on the continent,
very little subfossil preservation evidence exists relative to
elsewhere. However, continent-wide extinction of all genera
weighing over 100 kilograms, and six of seven genera weighing between
45 and 100 kilograms occurred around 46,400 years ago (4,000 years
after human arrival) and the fact that megafauna survived until a
later date on the island of
Tasmania following the establishment of a
land bridge suggest direct hunting or anthropogenic ecosystem
disruption such as fire-stick farming as likely causes. The first
evidence of direct human predation leading to extinction in Australia
was published in 2016.
Further information: Wildlife of
Radiocarbon dating of multiple subfossil specimens shows that now
extinct giant lemurs were present in
Madagascar until after human
Within 500 years of the arrival of humans between 2,500–2,000 years
ago, nearly all of Madagascar's distinct, endemic and geographically
isolated megafauna became extinct. The largest animals, of more
than 150 kilograms (330 lb), were extinct very shortly after the
first human arrival, with large and medium-sized species dying out
after prolonged hunting pressure from an expanding human population
moving into more remote regions of the island around 1000 years ago.
Smaller fauna experienced initial increases due to decreased
competition, and then subsequent declines over the last 500 years.
All fauna weighing over 10 kilograms (22 lb) died out. The
primary reasons for this are human hunting and habitat loss from early
aridification, both of which persist and threaten Madagascar's
remaining taxa today.
The eight or more species of elephant birds, giant flightless ratites
in the genera
Aepyornis and Mullerornis, are extinct from
over-hunting, as well as 17 species of lemur, known as giant,
subfossil lemurs. Some of these lemurs typically weighed over 150
kilograms (330 lb), and fossils have provided evidence of human
butchery on many species.
List of extinct animals
List of extinct animals of New Zealand
Biodiversity of New Zealand, Timeline of the New Zealand
Invasive species in New Zealand
New Zealand is characterised by its geographic isolation and island
biogeography, and had been isolated from mainland
Australia for 80
million years. It was the last large land mass to be colonised by
humans. The arrival of Polynesian settlers circa 12th century resulted
in the extinction of all of the islands' megafaunal birds within
several hundred years. The last moa, large flightless ratites,
became extinct within 200 years of the arrival of human settlers.
The Polynesians also introduced the Polynesian rat. This may have put
some pressure on other birds but at the time of early European contact
(18th Century) and colonisation (19th Century) the bird life was
prolific. With them, the Europeans brought ship rats, possums, cats
and mustelids which decimated native bird life, some of which had
adapted flightlessness and ground nesting habits and others had no
defensive behavior as a result of having no extant endemic mammalian
predators. The kakapo, the world's biggest parrot, which is
flightless, now only exists in managed breeding sanctuaries and NZ's
national emblem, the kiwi, is on the endangered bird list.
Main articles: List of North American animals extinct in the Holocene
and List of South American animals extinct in the Holocene
Reconstructed woolly mammoth bone hut, based on finds in Mezhyrich.
The passenger pigeon was a species of pigeon endemic to North America.
It experienced a rapid decline in the late 1800s due to habitat
destruction and intense hunting after the arrival of Europeans. The
last wild bird is thought to have been shot in 1901.
There has been a debate as to the extent to which the disappearance of
megafauna at the end of the last glacial period can be attributed to
human activities by hunting, or even by slaughter of prey
populations. Discoveries at Monte Verde in South America and at
Meadowcroft Rock Shelter
Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania have caused a controversy
regarding the Clovis culture. There likely would have been human
settlements prior to the Clovis Culture, and the history of humans in
the Americas may extend back many thousands of years before the Clovis
culture. The amount of correlation between human arrival and
megafauna extinction is still being debated: for example, in Wrangel
Island in Siberia the extinction of dwarf woolly mammoths
(approximately 2000 BCE) did not coincide with the arrival of
humans, nor did megafaunal mass extinction on the South American
continent, although it has been suggested climate changes induced by
anthropogenic effects elsewhere in the world may have contributed.
Comparisons are sometimes made between recent extinctions
(approximately since the industrial revolution) and the Pleistocene
extinction near the end of the last glacial period. The latter is
exemplified by the extinction of large herbivores such as the woolly
mammoth and the carnivores that preyed on them. Humans of this era
actively hunted the mammoth and the mastodon but it is not known
if this hunting was the cause of the subsequent massive ecological
changes, widespread extinctions and climate changes.
The ecosystems encountered by the first Americans had not been exposed
to human interaction, and may have been far less resilient to human
made changes than the ecosystems encountered by industrial era humans.
Therefore, the actions of the Clovis people, despite seeming
insignificant by today's standards could indeed have had a profound
effect on the ecosystems and wild life which was entirely unused to
See also: List of African animals extinct in the Holocene, List of
Asian animals extinct in the Holocene, and
List of extinct animals
List of extinct animals of
Africa experienced the smallest decline in megafauna compared to the
other continents. This is presumably due to the idea that Afroeurasian
megafauna evolved alongside humans, and thus developed a healthy fear
of them, unlike the comparatively tame animals of other
continents. Unlike other continents, the megafauna of Eurasia went
extinct over a relatively long period of time, possibly due to climate
fluctuations fragmenting and decreasing populations, leaving them
vulnerable to over-exploitation, as with the steppe bison (Bison
priscus). The warming of the arctic region caused the rapid
decline of grasslands, which had a negative effect on the grazing
megafauna of Eurasia. Most of what once was mammoth steppe has been
converted to mire, rendering the environment incapable of supporting
them, notably the woolly mammoth.
Arid ice age climate
Middle: Atlantic Period, warm and wet
Bottom: Potential vegetation in climate now if not for human effects
Bramble Cay melomys
Bramble Cay melomys were declared extinct in June 2016. This is likely
the first mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate
One of the main theories to the extinction is climate change. The
climate change theory has suggested that a change in climate near the
end of the late
Pleistocene stressed the megafauna to the point of
extinction. Some scientists favor abrupt climate change as the
catalyst for the extinction of the mega-fauna at the end of the
Pleistocene, but there are many who believe increased hunting from
early modern humans also played a part, with others even suggesting
that the two interacted. However, the annual mean
temperature of the current interglacial period for the last 10,000
years is no higher than that of previous interglacial periods, yet
some of the same megafauna survived similar temperature
increases. In the Americas, a controversial
explanation for the shift in climate is presented under the Younger
Dryas impact hypothesis, which states that the impact of comets cooled
Megafauna play a significant role in the lateral transport of mineral
nutrients in an ecosystem, tending to translocate them from areas of
high to those of lower abundance. They do so by their movement between
the time they consume the nutrient and the time they release it
through elimination (or, to a much lesser extent, through
decomposition after death). In South America's Amazon Basin, it is
estimated that such lateral diffusion was reduced over 98% following
the megafaunal extinctions that occurred roughly 12,500 years
ago. Given that phosphorus availability is thought to limit
productivity in much of the region, the decrease in its transport from
the western part of the basin and from floodplains (both of which
derive their supply from the uplift of the Andes) to other areas is
thought to have significantly impacted the region's ecology, and the
effects may not yet have reached their limits. The extinction of
the mammoths allowed grasslands they had maintained through grazing
habits to become birch forests. The new forest and the resulting
forest fires may have induced climate change. Such disappearances
might be the result of the proliferation of modern humans; some recent
studies favor this theory.
Large populations of megaherbivores have the potential to contribute
greatly to the atmospheric concentration of methane, which is an
important greenhouse gas. Modern ruminant herbivores produce methane
as a byproduct of foregut fermentation in digestion, and release it
through belching or flatulence. Today, around 20% of annual methane
emissions come from livestock methane release. In the Mesozoic, it has
been estimated that sauropods could have emitted 520 million tons of
methane to the atmosphere annually, contributing to the warmer
climate of the time (up to 10 °C warmer than at
present). This large emission follows from the enormous
estimated biomass of sauropods, and because methane production of
individual herbivores is believed to be almost proportional to their
Recent studies have indicated that the extinction of megafaunal
herbivores may have caused a reduction in atmospheric methane. This
hypothesis is relatively new. One study examined the methane
emissions from the bison that occupied the
Great Plains of North
America before contact with European settlers. The study estimated
that the removal of the bison caused a decrease of as much as 2.2
million tons per year. Another study examined the change in the
methane concentration in the atmosphere at the end of the Pleistocene
epoch after the extinction of megafauna in the Americas. After early
humans migrated to the Americas about 13,000 BP, their hunting and
other associated ecological impacts led to the extinction of many
megafaunal species there. Calculations suggest that this extinction
decreased methane production by about 9.6 million tons per year. This
suggests that the absence of megafaunal methane emissions may have
contributed to the abrupt climatic cooling at the onset of the Younger
Dryas. The decrease in atmospheric methane that occurred at that
time, as recorded in ice cores, was 2–4 times more rapid than any
other decrease in the last half million years, suggesting that an
unusual mechanism was at work.
The hyperdisease hypothesis, proposed by Ross MacPhee in 1997, states
that the megafaunal die-off was due to an indirect transmission of
diseases by newly arriving aboriginal humans. According to
MacPhee, aboriginals or animals travelling with them, such as domestic
dogs or livestock, introduced one or more highly virulent diseases
into new environments whose native population had no immunity to them,
eventually leading to their extinction.
K-selection animals, such as
the now-extinct megafauna, are especially vulnerable to diseases, as
opposed to r-selection animals who have a shorter gestation period and
a higher population size. Humans are thought to be the sole cause as
other earlier migrations of animals into
North America from Eurasia
did not cause extinctions.
There are many problems with this theory, as this disease would have
to meet several criteria: it has to be able to sustain itself in an
environment with no hosts; it has to have a high infection rate; and
be extremely lethal, with a mortality rate of 50–75%. Disease has to
be very virulent to kill off all the individuals in a genus or
species, and even such a virulent disease as
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus is
unlikely to have caused extinction.
However, diseases have been the cause for some extinctions. The
introduction of avian malaria and avipoxvirus, for example, have had a
negative impact on the endemic birds of Hawaii.
Main article: Defaunation
There are roughly 880 mountain gorillas remaining in existence. 60% of
primate species face an anthropogenically driven extinction crisis and
75% have declining populations.
The loss of species from ecological communities, defaunation, is
primarily driven by human activity. This has resulted in empty
forests, ecological communities depleted of large vertebrates.
This is not to be confused with extinction, as it includes both the
disappearance of species and declines in abundance. Defaunation
effects were first implied at the Symposium of Plant-Animal
Interactions at the University of Campinas, Brazil in 1988 in the
context of neotropical forests. Since then, the term has gained
broader usage in conservation biology as a global phenomenon.
Big cat populations have severely declined over the last half-century
and could face extinction in the following decades. According to IUCN
estimates: lions are down to 25,000, from 450,000; leopards are down
to 50,000, from 750,000; cheetahs are down to 12,000, from 45,000;
tigers are down to 3,000 in the wild, from 50,000. A December
2016 study by the Zoological Society of London, Panthera Corporation
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society showed that cheetahs are far closer
to extinction than previously thought, with only 7,100 remaining in
the wild, and crammed within only 9% of their historic range.
Human pressures are to blame for the cheetah population crash,
including prey loss due to overhunting by people, retaliatory killing
from farmers, habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade.
We are seeing the effects of 7 billion people on the planet. At
present rates, we will lose the big cats in 10 to 15 years.
— Naturalist Dereck Joubert, co-founder of the National Geographic
Big Cats Initiative
The term pollinator decline refers to the reduction in abundance of
insect and other animal pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide
beginning at the end of the twentieth century, and continuing into the
present day. Pollinators, which are necessary for 75% of food
crops, are declining globally in both abundance and diversity. A
2017 study led by Radboud University's Hans de Kroon indicated that
the biomass of insect life in Germany had declined by three-quarters
in the previous 25 years. Participating researcher Dave Goulson of
Sussex University stated that their study suggested that humans are
making large parts of the planet uninhabitable for wildlife. Goulson
characterized the situation as an approaching "ecological Armageddon",
adding that "if we lose the insects then everything is going to
We have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss
of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and
are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end
of the 21st century.
— Peter Raven, former president of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in the foreword to their
publication AAAS Atlas of
Population and Environment
Angalifu, a male northern white rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo Safari
Park (died December 2014). Sudan, the last male of the subspecies
died on March 19, 2018.
Various species are predicted to become extinct in the near
future, among them the rhinoceros, nonhuman primates,
pangolins, and giraffes.
Hunting alone threatens bird
and mammalian populations around the world. Some
scientists and academics assert that industrial agriculture and the
growing demand for meat is contributing to significant global
biodiversity loss as this is a significant driver of deforestation and
habitat destruction; species-rich habitats, such as significant
portions of the Amazon region, are being converted to agriculture for
meat production. A 2017 study by the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF) found that 60% of biodiversity loss can be attributed to
the vast scale of feed crop cultivation required to rear tens of
billions of farm animals. Moreover, a 2006 report by the Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Livestock's Long
Shadow, also found that the livestock sector is a "leading player" in
biodiversity loss. According to the WWF's 2016 Living Planet
Index, global wildlife populations have declined 58% since 1970,
primarily due to habitat destruction, over-hunting and pollution. They
project that if current trends continue, 67% of wildlife could
disappear by 2020. 189 countries, which are signatory to the
Convention on Biological Diversity
Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio Accord), have committed
to preparing a
Biodiversity Action Plan, a first step at identifying
specific endangered species and habitats, country by country.
For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years
ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. We ignore the
decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer
that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us.
— Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF's UK
IUCN Red List
IUCN Red List extinct in the wild species, List of
endangered species, and List of critically endangered species
Recent extinctions are more directly attributable to human influences,
whereas prehistoric extinctions can be attributed to other factors,
such as global climate change. The International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) characterises 'recent' extinction as
those that have occurred past the cut-off point of 1500, and at
least 875 species have gone extinct since that time and 2012.
Some species, such as the Père David's deer and the Hawaiian
crow, are extinct in the wild, and survive solely in captive
populations. Other species, such as the Florida panther, are
ecologically extinct, surviving in such low numbers that that they
essentially have no impact on the ecosystem.:318 Other
populations are only locally extinct (extirpated), still existence
elsewhere, but reduced in distribution,:75–77 as with the
extinction of gray whales in the Atlantic, and of the leatherback
sea turtle in Malaysia.
Extinction risk from global warming,
Marine pollution, and Social and environmental impact of palm oil
Satellite image of rainforest converted to oil palm plantations.
Global warming is widely accepted as being a contributor to extinction
worldwide, in a similar way that previous extinction events have
generally included a rapid change in global climate and meteorology.
It is also expected to disrupt sex ratios in many reptiles which have
temperature-dependent sex determination.
The removal of land to clear way for palm oil plantations releases
carbon emissions held in the peatlands of Indonesia. Palm
oil mainly serves as a cheap cooking oil, and also as a
(controversial) biofuel. However, damage to peatland contributes to 4%
of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 8% of those caused by burning
Palm oil cultivation has also been criticized for
other impacts to the environment, including
deforestation, which has threatened critically endangered species
such as the orangutan and the tree-kangaroo. The IUCN
stated in 2016 that the species could go extinct within a decade if
measures are not taken to preserve the rainforests in which they
Rising levels of carbon dioxide are resulting in influx of this gas
into the ocean, increasing its acidity. Marine organisms which possess
calcium carbonate shells or exoskeletons experience physiological
pressure as the carbonate reacts with acid. For example, this is
already resulting in coral bleaching on various coral reefs worldwide,
which provide valuable habitat and maintain a high biodiversity.
Marine gastropods, bivalves and other invertebrates are also affected,
as are the organisms that feed on them.
Some researchers suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than
fish in the oceans by weight, with about 8.8 metric tons (9.7
short tons) of plastic being discharged into the oceans annually.
Single-use plastics, such as plastic shopping bags, make up the bulk
of this, and can often be ingested by marine life, such as with sea
turtles. These plastics can degrade into microplastics, smaller
particles that can affect a larger array of species. Microplastics
make up the bulk of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and their smaller
size is detrimental to cleanup efforts.
Species affected by poaching and Overfishing
The vaquita, the world's most endangered marine mammal, has been
reduced to only 30 individuals as of February 2017. They are often
killed by commercial fishing nets.
The collapse of
Atlantic cod off the coast of Newfoundland in 1992 as
a result of overfishing. The population never recovered, completely
altering the ecosystem and rendering the species locally extinct.
Overhunting can reduce the local population of game animals by more
than half, as well as reducing population density, and may lead to
extinction for some species. Populations located nearer to
villages are significantly more at risk of depletion.
The surge in the mass killings by poachers involved in the illegal
ivory trade along with habitat loss is threatening African elephant
populations. In 1979, their populations stood at 1.7
million; at present there are fewer than 400,000 remaining. Prior
to European colonization, scientists believe
Africa was home to
roughly 20 million elephants. According to the Great Elephant
Census, 30% of African elephants (or 144,000 individuals) disappeared
over a seven-year period, 2007 to 2014. African elephants
could become extinct by 2035 if poaching rates continue.
Fishing has had a devastating effect on marine organism populations
for several centuries even before the explosion of destructive and
highly effective fishing practices like trawling. Humans are
unique among predators in that they regularly predate on other adult
apex predators, particularly in marine environments; bluefin tuna,
blue whales, North Atlantic right whales and various sharks in
particular are particularly vulnerable to predation pressure from
human fishing. A 2016 study published in Science concludes that humans
tend to hunt larger species, and this could disrupt ocean ecosystems
for millions of years.
If this pattern goes unchecked, the future oceans would lack many of
the largest species in today’s oceans. Many large species play
critical roles in ecosystems and so their extinctions could lead to
ecological cascades that would influence the structure and function of
future ecosystems beyond the simple fact of losing those species.
— Jonathan Payne, associate professor and chair of geological
sciences at Stanford University
See also: Decline in amphibian populations, White nose syndrome, and
Colony collapse disorder
The golden toad of Costa Rica, extinct since around 1989. Its
disappearance has been attributed to a confluence of several factors,
El Niño warming, fungus, habitat loss and the introduction
of invasive species.
Toughie, the last Rabbs' fringe-limbed treefrog, died in September
2016. The species was killed off from the chytrid fungus
The decline of amphibian populations has also been identified as an
indicator of environmental degradation. As well as habitat loss,
introduced predators and pollution, Chytridiomycosis, a fungal
infection thought to have been accidentally spread by human travel,
has caused severe population drops of several species of frogs,
including (among many others) the extinction of the golden toad in
Costa Rica and the
Gastric-brooding frog in Australia. Many other
amphibian species now face extinction, including the reduction of
Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog to an endling, and the extinction of the
Panamanian golden frog
Panamanian golden frog in the wild.
Chytrid fungus has spread across
Australia, New Zealand, Central America and Africa, including
countries with high amphibian diversity such as cloud forests in
Honduras and Madagascar.
Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans is a
similar infection currently threatening salamanders. Amphibians are
now the most endangered vertebrate group, having existed for more than
300 million years through three other mass extinctions.:17
Millions of bats in the US have been dying off since 2012 due to a
fungal infection spread from European bats, which appear to be immune.
Population drops have been as great as 90% within five years, and
extinction of at least one bat species is predicted. There is
currently no form of treatment, and such declines have been described
as "unprecedented" in bat evolutionary history by Alan Hicks of the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Between 2007 and 2013, over ten million beehives were abandoned due to
colony collapse disorder, which causes worker bees to abandon the
Effects of global warming
Quaternary prehistoric birds
List of extinct animals
List of extinct plants
List of recently extinct mammals
List of recently extinct birds
List of recently extinct invertebrates
List of recently extinct plants
List of recently extinct reptiles
Extinction (2015 documentary film)
Extinction (2015 album)
Timeline of extinctions in the Holocene
Extinct and endangered species portal
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