Moos' Blog

Biodiversity Counts!
Observations and opinions concerning zoos, evolution, nature conservation and the way we treat/support the ecosystems which are supposed to serve us.


Could selfishness prevent the 6th mass species extinction?

published 02 June 2014 | modified 18 December 2016

Dodo-by-FrohawkAbout a month ago, researchers from the University of St. Andrews challenged the idea that we are on the brink of the 6th mass species extinction event. The findings of their research were not consistent with the common opinion that extinction rates have been accelerating – leading to biodiversity loss. The researchers didn't observe consistent loss of species through time, but found as many surveys with a systematic loss as well as gain in the number of species recorded through time. They were surprised, given the current concerns of a biodiversity crisis and abnormally high extinction rates.

Well, should they do their homework again? A more recent publication also published in the journal Science, led by researchers from SavingSpecies, and already regarded as a highly significant paper is more consistent with communis opinio of esteemed experts in the field. The paper reports on the current loss of biodiversity. It presents a dramatically increased estimate of the rate of human-caused extinctions. The paper represents a milestone in conservation science. The key findings are:

  1. current extinction rates are 1,000 times the natural rate, higher than previously estimated,

  2. scientists know more than ever before about where the at-risk species are, and

  3. new technologies make it easier to find and monitor species and focus conservation actions more efficiently.

So, in fact both papers have something positive to contribute to nature conservation. One says that we shouldn't only focus on biodiversity loss, but on biodiversity change (no loss, no gain, but change) as well and the other paper provide suggestions where we should focus our conservation efforts.

But in the end, the research findings say that we either have biodiversity loss in certain areas only or an overall loss on a global scale. The most pessimistic and scientifically most appreciated paper reports that there is an extreme extinction rate. Which in fact means extreme biodiversity loss, because we do discover new species every year – even mammals – still, but not nearly as many as we lose by extinction. And most of these new species we discover are already close to extinction at the moment we find them for the first time (a few examples: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6). Or even worse, species will go extinct before we discover them at all.

We are losing species, because we are selfish
The estimated number of species alive today is 10 million. The natural rate of extinction, the background rate, is 1 in a million species per year. But the unsettling result of the recent SavingSpecies' paper mentions a current extinction rate of at least 100, possibly 1,000 times the natural rate in the prehistoric past. Which is echoed by the researchers in the documentary 'Call of Life'. This is the first feature-length documentary to fully investigate the growing threat posed by the rapid and massive loss of biodiversity on the planet. Featuring leading scientists, social scientists, environmentalists and others, the film explores the scope, the causes, and the predicted global impact of a mass extinction occurring on a scale not seen since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. And it is all human-caused, because we are born SELFISH and only want the best for ourselves no matter what consequences. This is shortsighted and a very disturbing fact. Especially, when in the documentary it is mentioned that within 30-40 years a lot is going to happen regarding species extinctions and that we should remember extinction is forever!

Call of Life - trailer

(Source: Pangeality Productions on Vimeo)

Why is biodiversity important
Organism survival depends on healthy ecosystems. Ecosystems that are able to provide all life on Earth – not only human beings – with clean water, clean air, and enough nutritional food to name a few of the ecosystem services. For instance, pollinators – such as bees, other insects or bats – are extremely important for good agricultural crop yields.

Talking about food production, do we know what the carrying capacity of our planet is? The global population size is expected to reach over 9 billion individuals by 2050, according the United Nations. Feeding all these people requires an enormous increase in global food production compared to current production levels. But there is a limit to the world's resources. To prevent a collapse by global starvation immediate action is necessary. One of these actions is saving ecosystem services from collapsing, thus putting a stop to this frightening extinction rate.

Amazon Deforestation, Brazil
Explore a global timelapse of our planet (1984-2012), constructed from Landsat satellite imagery. The Amazon rainforest is shrinking at a rapid rate to provide land for farming and raising cattle. And you may be aware that most of the farming in the Amazon produces feed (soy) for feedlot cattle somewhere else on the planet, which are raised to feed many hungry mouths that love animal proteins, meat!

What is really frightening is the fact that extinction is not a linear process. It is not that we lose species at a steady rate, but in an unexpected increasing rate because the balance of nature is very delicate. We haven't fully understood the existing ecosystems structures and balances yet, but we do know that the removal of just one or a few species can, through an extinction cascade, lead to a collapse of an ecosystem. And what is gone, is gone!

Cause, effect ànd solution by selfishness
The direct drivers of species extinction are pollution (such as fertilisers, pesticides and plastics), habitat loss, over-exploitation, invasive species (consciously and subconsciously exotic species are introduced by humans), and global warming. Most of which are in the end caused by our own success, driven by our selfishness. You could translate this into materialism or capitalism, that requires continuous economic growth, but it has led to enormous improvements (industrial and agricultural) and population growth.

When we grow up as superior beings, become more intelligent and think things through, we will arrive at another level of consciousness and selfishness, hopefully. A level that makes us realise that there are limits to growth and that we should settle for a less luxurious life and fair distribution of resources. A level that acknowledge the importance of other species and ecosystem services for the survival of mankind. I suggest homo sapiens should be more selfish about mankind's survival. Selfishness based on reason and not instinct. And good reasoning will lead to sustainable conservation of nature, of ecosystems, of biodiversity. That will not only save us from going extinct but many other forms of life on Earth as well. So, listen up MAN: be SELFISH, take less – get more!

Or in other words: selfishness prevents loneliness

Don’t forget to show you care!


(Source: SavingSpecies press release, 29.05.2014; Science – 'The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection', 30.05.2014; University of St Andrews news release, 17.04.2014; University of Copenhagen News, 19.01.2012; United Nations – World Population Prospects, the 2010 revision; Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update by Meadows, Randers and Meadows, 2004)


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