Cur­rent species loss 1,000 times higher than nor­mal, say scientists

pub­lished 01 June 2014 | mod­i­fied 07 June 2014

A new sci­en­tific study shows extinc­tion rates are much higher than nor­mal, but tech­nol­ogy and inno­va­tion pro­vide hope for conservation.

number-of-animal-species-world-mapThis 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 20112020.

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.

Human beings have been dev­as­tat­ing wildlife pop­u­la­tions for cen­turies and their impacts on bio­di­ver­sity have increased mas­sively over the last hun­dred years
Dr. Stu­art Pimm, lead author, Nicholas School of the Envi­ron­ment, Duke Uni­ver­sity, and Pres­i­dent of Sav­ing Species »

“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)

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.
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