Stemming species extinctionPublished on March 28, 2022
E.O Wilson recently passed away. The famous biologist was warning of a sixth mass extinction as far back as 1991, telling a US presidential committee of the need to fund efforts to name and conserve the world’s species.
Since then, little has changed. Conservation biologists, if anything, are becoming more urgent in their warnings. As we mark World Wildlife Day on March 3, we take stock of the state of nature.
Life on Earth is more than just fodder for stunning David Attenborough documentaries. Nearly half of all new medicines come from nature. Forests and oceans soak up the carbon that humans put into the atmosphere. Bees, bats, birds and other insect pollinate flowers and crops that feed us. Wetlands and forests filter water, making it suitable to drink. Trees produce oxygen for us to breathe. These are the ‘ecosystem services’ that nature provides humanity for free.
Beyond these essential but utilitarian purposes, life on this planet is unique. Knowing that a species will go extinct, and letting it happen, diminishes what makes Earth unlike anything in the known Universe.
And so, efforts to fight the tide of extinction continue. Little by little, science discovers more about what will save a species, what will bring it back from the brink, and what will stop it going there in the first place.
More than 99 percent of the four billion species that have evolved on Earth are now gone. (Our World in Data)
For the extinctions where there is solid data, invasive species were responsible for 54 percent of all animals lost in the past 200 years. (Causes and Consequence of Species Extinction)
Loss of pollinators affects more than 75 percent of global food crop types, risking US$235 billion to US$577 billion of global crop output annually. (Nature)
Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. (WWF)
Quote attributable to Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University
Many species go extinct before they are even discovered — perhaps as many as 25 percent of total extinctions are never noticed by humans.
Quote attributable to Michael Paul Nelson, Oregon State University
The Western culture’s relationship with nature is broken because we were convinced to turn away from our ancestors’ animist beliefs and instead view nature as an inanimate goods-and-services-producing-machine.
Quote attributable to Euan Ritchie, Deakin University
Everything is linked, and needs to be managed as though it is.
The Sixth Mass Extinction is happening now, and it doesn’t look good for us
Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University
Species are going extinct at an unusually high rate. Our efforts now will prevent a future too ghastly to contemplate.
Conservation actions work to save species
Philip McGowan, Newcastle University, UK
Research shows species on the brink of extinction have successfully been saved. Applying the same approaches more broadly could help the planet.
Philosophy caused our environmental mess, and can fix it too
Michael Paul Nelson, Oregon State University
We better get used to facing tough ethical dilemmas, as environmental destruction forces some tangled conundrums.
A cat in the house saves the birds in the bush
Sarah Legge, The Australian National University and University of Queensland
Cats are skillful hunters. In Australia, public campaigning and local government regulation are helping to keep wildlife and domestic cats safer.
Forest protection relies on more than just protected areas
Payal Shah, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
Protected areas are effective at preventing forest clearing. But where they are and how strict the protection also matters.
A rose by any other name would be as endangered
Giovanni Strona, University of Helsinki
Without good data and good science, it is not clear how many species we are losing to extinction.
Coordination and action would protect India from pests
Achyut Kumar Banerjee, Sun Yat-sen University
India’s future prosperity is threatened by invasive species. Yet action on the problem is piecemeal or missing.
The koala in the coal mine
Euan Ritchie, Deakin University
With the scrutiny on climate change, the collapse of Australian ecosystems has received scant attention. But saving them is entirely possible.