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The Vista Voice

The student news site of Vista del Lago

The Vista Voice

The student news site of Vista del Lago

The Vista Voice

The Sixth Global Extinction 


In 2023, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed 21 species off of the endangered species list. This should be a moment to celebrate our improvement of the environment, however; the cause for their removal was not an increase in numbers. Instead, it was extinction, and scientists fear that many more species will follow at an increasingly dramatic rate. This sudden extinction of many species is what many scientists are referring to as the sixth global extinction


What Makes a Mass Extinction?

According to researchers, a mass extinction is classified as 70 percent of all species on earth going extinct in a short period of time. The natural rate of species extinction when a mass extinction is not occurring is about 10 percent of species lost every million years, according to Our World in Data . A short period of time can be classified as a few thousand to a few million years. 

Prior to the present day, there have been five mass extinctions throughout the course of Earth’s history. The first was about 444 million years ago, called the Ordovician extinction, and the most recent extinction, the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago, is the most famous of all of these extinctions. The causes for these era-ending phenomena are mostly changes that have had to do with the climate, such as volcanoes or meteors. Still, now the catalyst that could be triggering another mass extinction seems to be human activity.  

There are many reasons and factors why scientists are proposing the idea of a global extinction, mainly extinction rates. “It has to do with the elevated rates of extinction above what’s called background extinction,” says Vista del Lago High School AP environmental science teacher Miranda McClurg. McClurg says that the rates of extinction that we see today are far surpassing any of the rates that would be considered normal, “We also see that populations aren’t actually going extinct, there are significant decreases in both range and population numbers and so those combined lead to a significant loss in biodiversity, thats proposed to be a mass extinction event.” 

“The sixth global extinction, often referred to as the Mass Extinction, Holocene extinction, or Anthropocene extinction, is a term describing the ongoing extinction event that is occurring due to human activity,” said Pranti Das, a research scientist from Bio-Rad. Das said that several factors are actively pushing Earth toward mass extinction. Scientists like Das are pointing to habitat destruction, urbanization, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation as the main reasons why a mass extinction is a real possibility that we could be facing. 

“If you look at the numbers of species of all types across the globe they’re declining at a really dramatic pace, so it’s not a possibility, [mass extinction] is happening, it is now” said Vista del Lago teacher Sharon Ferrell. Ferrell said that by looking at the current numbers of decline amongst groups such as amphibians and insects, it is clear that we are in a global extinction. 


The Problem Runs Deeper

Species extinction is not the only issue that we are facing, it’s not even the most important issue that is contributing to a mass extinction. According to a study conducted by Gerardo Cebllos and Paul R. Ehlrich, in which they looked at the populations of several different species over time, they discovered that not only were specific species disappearing off the face of the Earth but entire genera (the plural of genus) are going extinct. They are calling this a “mutilation of the tree of life”

In the 523-year span that they studied, an incredibly short amount of time in the lens of geological change,  they have seen a decrease of about 73 genera of all land vertebrates, with birds suffering the most losses at about 44 genera of birds. 

Animals like the Yangtze River Dolphin and the Tasmanian Devil that are now extinct signaled the end of the entire genus. “A genus represents a group of species that share common characteristics and evolutionary history and lineage”  said Monalisa Ray from Thermofisher Activities “When an entire genus is wiped out, it can disrupt an ecological relationship, it can alter the food web, it can lead to cascading effects through the ecosystem” 

The wiping of an entire genus can be seen as much more of a threat to biodiversity. As Cebllos said in an interview with Stanford News, when a species dies out, it can more or less easily be replaced by another species in the genus, as they share the same niche or job. When a whole genus is wiped out; however, that entire niche is under threat, which disbalances the entire ecosystem in general. 


Humans and the Global extinction 

It’s often forgotten that the environment also includes humans. If there is a major extinction, we are not exempt from the effects that it will have on the world. “Every ecosystem is connected, and so if you mess up even the smallest part of one ecosystem, you’re gonna mess up all of the ecosystems,” said Ferrel

“There are lots of ecosystem services that we get from those populations that benefit humans and are critical not only for the stabilization of the environment but also for our economic activities, and the loss of that biodiversity destabilizes those ecosystem services.” said McClug 

Ecosystem services is the name for what we as humans get out of the environment. There are four key ecosystem services: cultural, regulating, supporting, and provisioning. These services make up everything humans need to thrive. It includes things like food, water, and medicine, but also services that aren’t commonly talked about as well, like shelter from storms, filtering water, and many more services. Without these ecosystem services, humans will have a hard time surviving. 

 Ray said another effect of a genus wipe, other than a dramatic loss in biodiversity for the entire planet, is a decrease in cultural or aesthetic ecosystem services. This means an aesthetic loss to the national parks and wildlife all around the world. Hikers, bikers, campers, and backpackers, as well as many water sports enthusiasts, will be left without a place to explore their individual interests. This will have damaging effects on the towns and cities that are nearby that rely on the ecotourism that they have to earn money. 

“I am very concerned about the legacy that we will leave for our future generations,” Ray said. “So the loss of biodiversity could mean that the future generations will not have the same opportunities to experience and benefit from Earth’s natural wonders.” Ray, like many biologists, is worried that at this rate of biodiversity loss, future generations will not have an environment to save or experience in any way at all. 


Can We Stop The Extinction? 

Many researchers and scientists are in agreement that there is still time, and preventing a major extinction is still a possibility that is real. “The good news is yes, we can stop the major extinction,” said Das. “The major mass extinction is pushed ever higher by human activity-and that means human activity can also reverse this trend.” 

Das says that many different actions that are taken by humans can be used to prevent a true global extinction. “Policies and legislation, increasing awareness, scientific knowledge, and international cooperation are a few ways to mitigate the current biodiversity crisis,” Das added that not only is it the job of large organizations and the government to have large conservation efforts, but it is also the responsibility of individuals. “Being a responsible citizen leads to a community of responsible people and leads to meaningful change and positive outcomes.” 

Others ,however, are not as optimistic about the ability of humans to fix this global crisis. “We do see such an elevated risk of extinction and it is likely that even if we were to remediate a lot of the things that are causing species to go extinct immediately we would see a delayed decline in biodiversity even after stopping that.” says McClurg, but she added, “It doesn’t mean that nothing should be tried, because if nothing is done and nothing happens you have absolutely no chance, but if you try something, you got a chance.”

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  • S

    Sil RMar 29, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    Incredibly well researched and written. I hope it instills a sense of logic and concern towards the ONLY home that humanity has.

  • N

    Namrata DeyMar 26, 2024 at 10:27 am

    Well written. I like the thoughts you have put in. Nice job