How the Taxonomic Rank of Organisms Relates to the Sixth Mass Extinction Event

We could be at the beginning of a mass extinction event. Mass extinction events can take tens of thousand’s and even hundreds of thousand’s of years to occur, and there would need to be about 75% or more species wiped out from the planet.

Some scientists think we are in such an event because they have examined the fossil record and can see how often species on earth have gone extinct roughly in the past 500 Ma years since complex life emerged and have compared this to the current rates of extinction. Usually, this extinction rate is much higher during mass extinction events, and this rate of extinction is occurring currently on the earth.

Other scientists claim that the data is unreliable. So we can’t make this type of comparison with precision. Mass extinctions involve extinctions higher up the taxonomical ladder, such as genus and family, and since we haven’t seen any of those yet, some claim that we mustn’t be in a mass extinction event.

However, at least 30% of all amphibians, which are two levels up the taxonomic ladder from family and four levels above species, are currently either critically endangered, threatened with extinction or vulnerable (meaning these species will become endangered without action).

Note: this is the IUCN Red List from 2007.

Some conservation biologists think that we may see a mass extinction event within a few centuries due to global degradation of ecosystems. Wildlife has halved in the last 40 years. Simple math would mean that would be a total loss in another 40 years, but of course, it’s nowhere near that simple. There are many factors to consider.

This is a good article from COSMOS: “Is a sixth mass extinction already happening?” which discusses the current biodiversity crisis further.

The first “saving grace” is that roughly 15% of nature is protected by laws and other measures. Many of the places where most of the species live are also protected. And the second “saving grace” is that even though individual species have massively declined, these species abundances can recover with time if the right conservation approaches are taken.

This may be the generation who will determine the fate of many species that live on this planet with us. The next half-century to century could be a very decisive period for biodiversity indeed.

Read more on Why Do Scientists Think We Are in a Sixth Great Mass Extinction?“.


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