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      Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines.

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      ecosystem service, population declines, population extinctions, conservation, sixth mass extinction

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          Abstract

          The population extinction pulse we describe here shows, from a quantitative viewpoint, that Earth's sixth mass extinction is more severe than perceived when looking exclusively at species extinctions. Therefore, humanity needs to address anthropogenic population extirpation and decimation immediately. That conclusion is based on analyses of the numbers and degrees of range contraction (indicative of population shrinkage and/or population extinctions according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) using a sample of 27,600 vertebrate species, and on a more detailed analysis documenting the population extinctions between 1900 and 2015 in 177 mammal species. We find that the rate of population loss in terrestrial vertebrates is extremely high-even in "species of low concern." In our sample, comprising nearly half of known vertebrate species, 32% (8,851/27,600) are decreasing; that is, they have decreased in population size and range. In the 177 mammals for which we have detailed data, all have lost 30% or more of their geographic ranges and more than 40% of the species have experienced severe population declines (>80% range shrinkage). Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a "biological annihilation" to highlight the current magnitude of Earth's ongoing sixth major extinction event.

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          Most cited references 38

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          Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.

          The most unique feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity. Approximately 9 million types of plants, animals, protists and fungi inhabit the Earth. So, too, do 7 billion people. Two decades ago, at the first Earth Summit, the vast majority of the world's nations declared that human actions were dismantling the Earth's ecosystems, eliminating genes, species and biological traits at an alarming rate. This observation led to the question of how such loss of biological diversity will alter the functioning of ecosystems and their ability to provide society with the goods and services needed to prosper.
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            Trophic downgrading of planet Earth.

            Until recently, large apex consumers were ubiquitous across the globe and had been for millions of years. The loss of these animals may be humankind's most pervasive influence on nature. Although such losses are widely viewed as an ethical and aesthetic problem, recent research reveals extensive cascading effects of their disappearance in marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems worldwide. This empirical work supports long-standing theory about the role of top-down forcing in ecosystems but also highlights the unanticipated impacts of trophic cascades on processes as diverse as the dynamics of disease, wildfire, carbon sequestration, invasive species, and biogeochemical cycles. These findings emphasize the urgent need for interdisciplinary research to forecast the effects of trophic downgrading on process, function, and resilience in global ecosystems.
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              Ecological linkages between aboveground and belowground biota.

              All terrestrial ecosystems consist of aboveground and belowground components that interact to influence community- and ecosystem-level processes and properties. Here we show how these components are closely interlinked at the community level, reinforced by a greater degree of specificity between plants and soil organisms than has been previously supposed. As such, aboveground and belowground communities can be powerful mutual drivers, with both positive and negative feedbacks. A combined aboveground-belowground approach to community and ecosystem ecology is enhancing our understanding of the regulation and functional significance of biodiversity and of the environmental impacts of human-induced global change phenomena.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                10.1073/pnas.1704949114
                5544311
                28696295

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