A new scientific study shows extinction rates are much higher than normal, but technology and innovation provide hope for conservation.
This week, SavingSpecies president, Dr. Stuart Pimm, announced the publication of a highly significant scientific paper in the journal Science, May 30th. The paper reports on the current loss of biodiversity. It presents a dramatically increased estimate of the rate of human-caused extinctions. It also describes the use of new technology for the conservation of biodiversity.
The review of the biodiversity of eukaryote species and their extinction rates, distributions, and protection in this paper is a contribution toward the global assessment of knowledge on biodiversity, which will commence in 2015. This assessment is a principal function of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and will be important in evaluating progress toward the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011 – 2020.
The article is the result of four years of work by scientists across three continents, including co-author Dr. Clinton Jenkins, who serves as Vice President of SavingSpecies. The paper represents a milestone in conservation science. The key findings are:
current extinction rates are 1,000 times the natural rate, higher than previously estimated,
scientists know more than ever before about where the at-risk species are, and
new technologies make it easier to find and monitor species and focus conservation actions more efficiently.
While the higher estimate of extinction rate is alarming, the scientists offer good news as well. The authors detail how the species observations of millions of amateur citizen scientists and new technologies, such as those used by SavingSpecies, are helping scientists and conservation professionals. Today, it is easier to monitor biodiversity trends, populations of endangered species, and fragmentation of vital habitat. The technologies include crowd-sourced databases of species with GIS positional data, and satellite imagery to create maps of biodiversity density and species’ populations. And a continued expansion of the many recently created online databases, combining them with new global data sources on changing land and ocean use and with increasingly crowd-sourced data on species’ distributions, including the use of smartphone apps, will make further progress on assessing biodiversity possible.
“But we now have the technology to pinpoint precisely where to aim limited conservation resources to do the most good for the least cost,” said Stuart Pimm.
Clinton Jenkins, currently a visiting professor of ecology and conservation at a Brazilian university, has developed highly detailed biodiversity maps, showing where the variety of species are most concentrated. These maps make clear where the priority areas for conservation should be.
Jenkins said, “This new study brings to light how serious the extinction crisis is, but it also points toward solutions. It shows where biodiversity is, where the at-risk species concentrate, and highlights how advanced technologies can help focus research and conservation efforts. Through the BiodiversityMapping website, we provide the maps and data on biodiversity patterns in an open way such that educators, researchers, and conservationists can apply it in their own efforts.”
Pimm added: “This is how SavingSpecies works each day, identifying fragmented forests for the most at-risk species of plants and animals and reconnecting forests that provide their habitat. It is both cost-efficient and effective.”
More background information on the current human-caused extinctions — some call it the 6th mass extinction — can be found in the documentary ‘Call of Life’. Although unsettling, it provides insights in not only the crisis in nature, but also in human nature.
Call of Life
Call of Life 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.
(Source: Pangeality Productions on Vimeo)
(Source: SavingSpecies press release, 29.05.2014; Duke University environment news, 29.05.2014; Science — ‘The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection’, 30.05.2014)