The Accelerating Rate of Animal Extinction Raises Alarm for Sixth Mass Extinction

According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the rate at which animal species are going extinct is 35 times higher than average due to human activity. This alarming trend provides further evidence that the world is experiencing a sixth mass extinction, and that it is accelerating. The researchers analyzed closely related animal species over the past 500 years and found that, in the absence of human impact, it would have taken 18,000 years for these species to vanish. However, the actual rate of extinction is increasing.

The study identified at least 73 species groupings of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that have gone extinct since 1500. If the extinction rates had followed the pre-human impact averages, only two of these groupings would have been expected to disappear. Some of the lost species include the elephant birds of Madagascar, moa from New Zealand, and Hawaiian moho honeyeaters.

This rapid loss of biodiversity is attributed to factors such as habitat destruction, the climate crisis, and illegal wildlife trade. The authors of the study project that these losses will continue to accelerate in the future. In the worst-case scenario, where all currently endangered species groups disappear by the end of the century, the extinction rate would be 354 times higher than the average of the past million years.

The study focused on “genera,” which are groups of species within the same taxonomic classification above individual species. The authors expected genera to have a lower rate of extinction than individual species, but they found that the rates were similar. Previous research based on fossil records estimated that one out of every 10,000 genera would disappear every century in the absence of human impact. This would translate to one genus becoming extinct every 250 years, given the current number of known vertebrate genera.

The authors of the study, Professors Gerardo Ceballos and Paul Ehrlich, have previously warned that the scale of species extinction poses a threat to the persistence of human civilization. While some scientists dispute the claim of a sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN assessment highlighted the risks faced by 1 million species due to human pressures on the environment.

In response to these findings, Professor Ceballos emphasized the urgency by stating that the loss of these genera weakens the foundation of life on the planet. He urged immediate political, economic, and social efforts to prevent these extinctions and their societal impacts. Professor Ben Garrod, who was not involved in the study, echoed these concerns and emphasized that extinction is irreversible.

Overall, this study serves as a stark warning about the accelerating extinction rate of animal species. It calls for collective action at the global level to mitigate the devastating loss of biodiversity and preserve the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem.


– Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
– The Guardian