Mass Extinction of Plants and Animals: Why Everyone Should Be Worried
Sat, April 10, 2021

Mass Extinction of Plants and Animals: Why Everyone Should Be Worried

Extinction is a natural occurrence that fortunately has happened in the past. What is frightening now is the fact that Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of animals and plants / Photo by: Ton Bangkeaw via Shutterstock

 

Extinction is a natural occurrence that fortunately has happened in the past. What is frightening now is the fact that Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of animals and plants. This is the worst wave of species extinction since the loss of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is estimated that Earth is losing species up to 1,000 times the natural rate of about five species per year. Approximately 30% to 50% of all species are heading toward extinction by mid-century.

Extinction takes place when every individual regardless of the ability to breed, location, or captivity has died. Nobody really knows how many endangered species will become extinct. David Wilcove, noted conservation scientist, estimated that in the US, 14,000 to 35,000 (7% to 18% of flora and fauna) are endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature roughly assessed that 16,928 (38%) identified species worldwide are at risk of disappearing forever in the coming decades.

Why It Matters When Species Go Extinct

What happens after the endangered species disappear? Does it matter if species go extinct? Scientists say that the extinction of one species can make a great difference on a global scale. The removal of one can commence the untangling of the intricate system of connections between the living organisms and their environments. Plants, animals, and humans depend on each other as well as on microorganisms, water, land, and climate to keep our entire living web alive and well. Removing a piece from the living web will cause extensive and lifelong effects on biodiversity.

Many endangered species are top predators that are diminishing because humans fear for their interest, humans fight with them for prey, and humans destroy their environments to expand communities and agricultural production. These conflicts with humans create an imbalance in biodiversity that affects everybody. The presence of every creature, big or small, is interwoven with the environment that everyone shares. Losing even a small thread in the living web adds to the untangling of Earth’s sustainability. It is necessary to keep the web intact.

Many endangered species are top predators that are diminishing because humans fear for their interest, humans fight with them for prey, and humans destroy their environments to expand communities and agricultural production / Photo by: Liz Weber via Shuuterstock

 

Natural vs. Human-Caused Extinction

Since the beginning of life on Earth, 99.9% of all species have gone extinct as a result of natural and man-made causes.

Asteroid strikes or meteor impacts spell deaths. The meteor impact on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Astronomers are always on the lookout for meteors or comets that could threaten the end of human civilization.

Climate change poses a perpetual risk to terrestrial animals. About 11,000 years ago, the Ice Age ended when various mammals were unable to adjust to the fast warming temperature. They gave in to predation and lack of food. The long-term effects of global warming threaten modern civilization.

Disease can wreak chaos on the living web. For example, amphibians fall prey to a fungal infection that ruins the skins of toads, frogs, and salamanders, resulting to deaths within a few weeks. Another example is the Black Death during the Middle Ages that wiped out a third of Europe’s population.

Loss of habitat due to hunting, breeding, raising the young, and expanding population is another cause of extinction. As humans expand into the wilds, the natural habitats of animals decrease in scope subjecting their constrained populations more vulnerable to extinction pressures.

Invasive species transplanted in the ecosystem can reproduce wildly, killing the native population. An example is the kudzu weed from Japan that is spreading 150,000 acres per year, swarming out indigenous vegetation.

Lack of food is a speedy and guaranteed route to extinction. Hunger weakens people making them susceptible to disease. The effect on the food chain is also devastating. For example, the elimination of malaria by killing every mosquito on the planet may seem good news. However, the domino effect on creatures feeding on mosquitoes like frogs and bats will cause them to go extinct too. In like manner, animals feeding on bats and frogs will also go extinct and so on down the food chain.

Pollution can suffocate marine life populations. Constant exposure to pollution can cause plants and animals to become more prone to loss of habitat, starvation, disease and ultimately death.

 Humans have weakened the environment by hunting and foraging. They eliminated the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon practically overnight. Such reckless behaviors need to stop.

Options and Exemplary Practices to Combat Extinction

• Institution of policy actions and initiatives to raise awareness, promote effective area-based conservation measures, protect the watersheds, and sanction pollution.

• In agriculture, promote good agricultural practices, multifunctional landscape planning, and cross-sectoral integrated management. All actors throughout the food system should be engaged.

• In marine systems, employ ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, spatial planning, marine biodiversity area management, and run-off pollution reduction.

• In freshwater systems, inclusive water governance for collaborative water management, integration of water resource management, promotion of practices to reduce soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution run-off, and increasing water storage.

• In urban areas, the promotion of nature-based solutions, increasing access to urban services and a healthy urban environment, improving access to green spaces, and sustainable production and consumption.

Humans have the responsibility to ensure that the Earth is not irreversibly damaged by human activities. The persistent demand for resources accelerates extinction and devastates ecosystems. Excuses are no longer accepted. Let all humans forge together to secure a sustainable future.

Humans have the responsibility to ensure that the Earth is not irreversibly damaged by human activities. The persistent demand for resources accelerates extinction and devastates ecosystems / Photo by: Aerial-motion via Shutterstock