Extinction is a natural process that has been happening since the beginning of time. Usually, new species develop through the process known as speciation at about the same rate as other species go extinct. Because of air and water pollution, forest clearing, loss of wetlands, and other man-induced environmental changes, extinctions are occurring at a rate that far exceeds the speciation rate. With each extinction, Earth loses its diversity and complexity of life. Losing one species on earth may result in many environmental repercussions because all life on earth is connected. If enough of those connections are broken, whole ecosystems could be destroyed, and the balance of nature can be forever altered, and human survival could potentially be in trouble. In addition, the animal and plant life on earth provides us with food and many of our life-saving medicines.
How Bad is it Really?
We don’t know how many species exist on Earth. Only an estimated 1.5 million of 5 million have been formally described. Average rates of extinction vary through time but there are typically one or two species that go extinct each year. Current rates of extinction are estimated to have reached 1000 to 10,000 times this rate. There have been at least five mass extinctions which anywhere from 60 to 96 percent of existing species became extinct. That means that 99% of all existing species that have ever existed are now extinct. These mass extinctions have been caused partly by volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts, but it is mostly from the destruction humans have caused.
What Species are We Saying Goodbye to?
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species said that 36% of the 47,677 species assessed are threatened with extinction. That is 21% of mammals, 30% of amphibians, 12% of birds, 28% of reptiles, 37% of freshwater fish, 70% of plants, and 35% of invertebrates. Species in particular that are officially extinct are the Baiji Dolphin, the Japanese River Otter, and the Pinta Island Tortoise. One of the species in danger of extinction is the honey bee. Check out this YouTube video on why the extinction of bees is so devastating.
What can a few less species really do to us? We are connected to and deeply dependent on other species. Whether it’s pollination of our crops from bees to carbon storage by our forest, we rely on biodiversity for our existence. Ignoring this is at our own peril. What can we do to support the species on our planet? There are many individuals and organizations working to tackle and sometimes turn back the tide of extinctions. There are also some personal ways you can help. Spreading the word about the extinction of animals and educating others on the effects of extinction can cause radical change in society as a whole in the way it interacts with its environment.
For lesson plans on endangered species check out the link below:
Ritchie, Euan. “Extinction: Just How Bad Is It and Why Should We Care?” The Conversation, 13 May 2019, theconversation.com/extinction-just-how-bad-is-it-and-why-should-we-care-13751.
Purvis, Andy, et al. “Extinction.” BioEssays, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 10 Nov. 2000, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1521-1878(200012)22:12<1123::AID-BIES10>3.0.CO;2-C.
Cosmology.com, Journal of. Journal of Cosmology, journalofcosmology.com/Extinction100.html.