The Sixth Extinction


Throughout history there have been five major extinctions. An extinction is a widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on earth. In most cases, these extinction events resulted in the loss of more than 70% of all species. In the past, mass extinction events have been the result of natural causes. Many scientists believe we are currently on the path to a sixth extinction due to the rate at which humans are causing species to become extinct. A sixth extinction could have huge implications for all life on earth.


Humans are one of the main causes of species extinction. As the human population continues to grow, species habitats are fragmented, minimized, and even destroyed. Humans have also hunted many species for food, clothing, or monetary value. WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report found wildlife populations of vertebrate species including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have declined by 52% over the last 40 years. In the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Nonfiction, entitled The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, author Elizabeth Kolbert discusses the history of mass distinction events and the similarities between the past and present. The book claims that if species continue to go extinct, it may lead to another mass extinction event and a huge loss in biodiversity.


So why does biodiversity matter? Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem. Biodiversity is important because each species on the planet has a unique importance even if it is not apparent. All species of plants and animals play a vital role in the ecosystem. If one species disappears, it may affect another in ways we could never predict. Humans rely on biodiversity for almost all aspects of life. Biodiversity is important to our food supply, clean air, fresh water, medicine, clothing, shelter, etc.


In order to prevent a sixth extinction from occurring, many organizations are dedicating their time and money to save plants and animals on the endangered species list. A full list of threatened, endangered, and critically endangered species can be found at The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has been assessing the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties, and even selected subpopulations on a global scale for the past 50 years in order to highlight taxa threatened with extinction, and thereby promote their conservation. The World Wildlife Fund also has a mission to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment, focusing mainly on biodiversity loss.


Written by Alyssa Lemire, Class of 2017






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