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 3040 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 (19842012), 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)

Related blogs

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
Fol­low me on: