The Sixth extinction

I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.

Have you seen Dinosaurs walking the Earth? No, right? Now, tell me have you heard tales of their extinction? Yes, they went extinct along with half the amount of world’s species that we didn’t even see. The reasons being asteroid impact or major volcanic blast. This extinction wiping out species on a mass scale is called The Fifth Extinction. Exactly like this fifth extinction, other mass extinctions have taken place prior to this over the course of evolution of origin of Earth. And now, studies suggest that we might be going through another mass extinction- The Sixth Extinction.

Prof Gerardo Ceballos, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who undertook a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal of 2015, said: “The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language” coining the term biological annihilation for the next mass extinction. The decline is happening so rapidly that we are now running out of time to even identify new and possibly rare species as they may already be extinct.

In the last 500 years, thousands or possibly billions of species have gone extinct. To top this, more than half of ancient plants, 3/4th of amphibian population, etc. are now threatened by extinction. Studies now show that an apocalypse of sorts with regard to wildlife is already under process and this time hitting the Earth with a more rigorous and severe wave than all the other mass extinctions that have happened earlier. All thanks to the anthropogenic human activities which we are hearing about everyday on social media, new channels and on local tongues- Overpopulation and over consumption of the existing natural resources. The most common example we hear about is the disappearance of Indian Vultures (Gyps indicus) due to sensitivity to drug Diclofenac.

Declines in the gradual biodiversity are far greater in the tropical and freshwater systems since majority of the wildlife thrives in these ecosystems. And some of these species might not even be get a chance to be considered under the “endangered” category. For example, the Dodo. Although the bird had no predators whatsoever, yet the Dutch sailors in the year 1681 ate the bird to extinction since it was an easy prey.

Stops before destination extinction

Most of the species whether flora or fauna are disappearing from existence. Some are either endangered, critically endangered, brought back from the dead, extinct in the wild or even functionally extinct. True, we hear about fauna disappearing more than flora disappearing but both play an equal and active role in balancing our ecosystem and its services. Few of the many have been described about below.

Musli (Chlorophytum tuberosum), a flowering plant endemic to Africa and Tamil Nadu region of India. The tree has Ayurvedic properties which enables it to cure a lot of diseases in humans. Over the last decade the plant has become “endangered” due to over harvesting it for medicinal purposes. Cork Palm (Microcycas calocoma), endemic to Western Cuba grows in small groups of 10-15. It is mostly used for trading purposes all over the world and grew predominantly from the area of San Diego de los Banos through the Santa Catalina area to the vicinity of San Andreas. The population has currently declined entering the “critically endangered” category due to over collection from the wild and habitat destruction. Franklin Tree ( Franklinia alatamaha) more predominantly found in wetland habitats was native to Altahama, Georgia, USA. Known for its fragrant white blossoms, the tree grew in pyramid shape upto 10 metres in height. The tree was overused in the 1700s by Nurserymen to meet horticulture demands in Europe. The population then became “extinct in the wild” possibly due to extensive clearing and burning of land. Currently the species is being grown in captivity in 1000s. St. Helena (Nesiota elliptica) olive, a more recent species to become extinct despite conservation efforts to save it. Endemic to South Atlantic Ocean, the tree became increasingly rare on the island when East India Company was established in the year 1658. The population decreased even further due to deforestation and selling of parts of the tree for fuel and timber. In the recent decades, the species became extinct in the wild as it could not thrive with the introduction of alien species and fungal pathogens in the area. Conservation efforts were then made to breed it and keep it alive in captivity but the last tree died in the year 1994. Not just this olive, but many of St. Helena’s rarest species are currently under threat (more information can be found here).

The year 2018 saw a lot of losses in terms of fauna. After the death of Sudan (the last male northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum)), the count had gone down to two owing to massive poaching for horns. The two female species left were put into “functionally extinct” category since they were incapable of naturally reproducing. Vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus), the world’s rarest marine mammal entered the less than 30 in number stage. The species endemic to the northern part of Gulf of California became “critically endangered” as they were caught in illegal gillnet fishing equipment and then drowned. Spix Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), a blue parrot famous all over the world from the movie Rio of 2011 much recently in the year 2018 got entered the “extinct in wild” category. The beautiful bird died in the wild due to activities like deforestation, trade and construction of a dam but somehow still managed to exist in captivity in double digit numbers. The Eastern Puma (Puma concolor couguar) for the final time was removed from the “endangered” category and put into the “extinct”. Close relatives of mountain lions which still roam the Western United States, were removed initially by locals when they were killed out of fear of livestock loss and human safety. Then, the creatures disappeared as the process of deforestation took over on a huge scale and their prey (White Tailed Deer) were unsustainably harvested.

This isnt all, scientists believed that 1.2 million out of 3 to 100 million species have not yet even been discovered. But, much recently studies by oxford scientists revealed that approximately 8 million species have been discovered and possibly some, from this tip of the iceberg have already gone extinct without getting a chance to be saved.

The Arabian Oryx ( Oryx leucoryx) being back from the dead is one of the oldest examples of species extinction due to human activities. These creatures were once considered the traditional symbols of the Arabian peninsula with the extensive wide hooves and the profile view of having a single horn (when actually it has two horns hence known as the being which started the unicorn legend) able to survive in harsh desert conditions. In the 1970s, the being was considered extinct in the wild by IUCN due to hunting activities and loss of habitat. But for the first time, the species was able to be revived in captivity and then was successfully reintroduced in several countries. The conservation success story is one of its kind since it helped the species jump from “extinct in wild” to “critically endangered” in the year 2011 and now “Vulnerable”. The American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) was also one of the oldest examples of trees found naturally in dominance in the wild for last several decades. Only recently, after a fungal disease (owing to human interference) hit the Chestnuts from Maine to Georgia around 1904 that the species were destroyed in the wild. Realizing the economical and environmental importance of this tree which still remains unmatched, botanists have taken efforts to restore it through breeding programs since the last 25 years and have successfully bred blight resistant hybrids in the wild.

Other amazing stories of successes can be found here.

The success stories give us a much needed awakening that conservation and protection are now more important than ever and a hope for more such conservation successes. Before our unique biodiversity is completely wiped off the face of the Earth we need to take strict actions for the current generation which is highly dependent on natural resources and also for future generations. If we don’t, the sixth extinction might possibly be the last one ever wiping off the entire existence of life on Earth.

The future generation comes later, wouldn’t it bother you if you didn’t see a lion anymore?


References:

  1. Barras, C., 2016. BBC Earth. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160408-how-humanity-first-killed-the-dodo-then-lost-it-as-well [Accessed 5 May 2019].
  2. Bösenberg, J.D. 2010. Microcycas calocoma. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T42107A10647674. . Downloaded on 10 September 2015.
  3. Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. & Dirzo, R., 2017. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), pp. E6088-E6096.
  4. Gleave, B., 2019. Here’s All The Incredible Species That Went Extinct In 2018.
    Available at: http://www.pretty52.com/news/real-life-the-list-of-incredible-species-that-went-extinct-in-2018-20190104 [Accessed 5 May 2019].
  5. Horton, T., 2018. Revival of the American Chestnut – American Forests. s.l.:American Forests.
  6. Lambdon, P.W. & Ellick, S. 2016. Nesiota elliptica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T37598A67372241. Downloaded on 05 May 2019.
  7. Maktabi, R., 2011. CNN. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/08/04/arabian.oryx.conservation/index.html [Accessed 5 May 2019].
  8. National Geographic, 2018. National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/prehistoric-world/dinosaur-extinction/
    [Accessed 5 May 2019].
  9. Rivers, M.C. 2015. Franklinia alatamaha. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species2015: e.T30408A62077322. Downloaded on 05 May 2019.
  10. Sujata, 2016. Endangered Plant Species in India. Available at: https://www.mapsofindia.com/my-india/india/endangered-plant-species-in-india# [Accessed 5 May 2019].
  11. WWF, 2017. Species- Dolphin and Purpoises. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/vaquita [Accessed 5 May 2019].

I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.

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