I found this week’s discussion on the 6th Mass Extinction to be very alarming. It’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around, especially when our day to day lives here in the United States don’t really reflect what’s going on in the rest of the world among fellow humans and all other creatures inhabiting this planet. To get a grasp on the variety of life forms at risk, I did a little research and found some info from the Center of Biological Diversity. I was not able to find many dates on the website, so I am not entirely sure how up to date this information is, but still find it relevant to our current discussion.
Amphibians are very unique creatures in the animal kingdom. They breathe through their skin, thus making them extremely vulnerable to air-borne toxins and pollutants found in water and on land. This makes them an indicator species, one that is very sensitive to environmental conditions. There are roughly 6,300 known species of amphibians that are currently extinct, which is 25,039-45,474 times the background rate (Center for Biological Diversity). Some threats to amphibians include habitat loss, pollution, U.V. exposure, invasive species, and disease.
Birds are another indicator of environmental conditions, especially those regarding the biosphere. In 2009, studies revealed 31% of known species of birds were of concern for endangerment, 12% were considered threatened, and 2% were considered to be at extremely high risk for extinction.
Though we may not always consider the tiny invertebrates of the world, they make up 97% of species on earth. Creatures such as butterflies, mollusks, earthworms, and coral reefs make up this category and face endangerment from habitat loss, pollution, deforestation, soil degradation, and coral bleaching. Of all known invertebrate species, 30% are at risk of extinction.
Fish make up another category of endangered species, at risk from overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and global warming. In North America, 39% of continental freshwater species are endangered and 82% of marine species.
Plants are extremely vital to our survival. They provide oxygen, food, they filter CO2, and provide the vast majority of medicines and products we use every single day. One of the reasons endangered plant species are at higher risk for extinction is that they are not mobile, and cannot relocate when conditions change. There are over 300,000 known plant species in the world, and 68% of them are endangered from climate change, invasive species, deforestation, soil degradation, urbanization, and agriculture.
Of all known reptile species in the world, 21% are endangered. 32% of species of the United States are endangered, which constitute 9% of the total number of species. Since there year 1600, 28 species of island reptiles have become extinct from habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change.
Last, but not least, mammals. Our closest relatives, primates, are becoming endangered at an alarming rate. About 90% of these primates live in tropical forests, and at risk from habitat loss due to deforestation and climate change.
“The IUCN estimates that almost 50 percent of the world’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe’s 5,491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1,131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. In addition to primates, marine mammals — including several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises — are among those mammals slipping most quickly toward extinction.” (Center for Biological Diversity).
With these statistics, we cannot just take a “business as usual” approach about the environmental problems threatening these species, and us. The fact is, we may be on the verge of a 6th Mass Extinction. Realistically, with the rates of loss of unknown species factored into the equation, it has probably already begun.
Center for Biological Diversity. (2016, April 8). The Exctintion Crisis. Retrieved from Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.BiologicalDiversity.org