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Written on March 8, 2010, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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For the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared, humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve, one of the world’s experts on biodiversity has warned.
Conservation experts have already signalled that the world is in the grip of the "sixth great extinction" of species, driven by the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, the spread of alien predators and disease, and climate change.

However until recently it has been hoped that the rate at which new species were evolving could keep pace with the loss of diversity of life.

Speaking in advance of two reports next week on the state of wildlife in Britain and Europe, Simon Stuart, chair of the Species Survival Commission for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the body which officially declares species threatened and extinct – said that point had now "almost certainly" been crossed.

"Measuring the rate at which new species evolve is difficult, but there’s no question that the current extinction rates are faster than that; I think it’s inevitable," said Stuart.

The IUCN created shock waves with its major assessment of the world’s biodiversity in 2004, which calculated that the rate of extinction had reached 100-1,000 times that suggested by the fossil records before humans.

No formal calculations have been published since, but conservationists agree the rate of loss has increased since then, and Stuart said it was possible that the dramatic predictions of experts like the renowned Harvard biologist E O Wilson, that the rate of loss could reach 10,000 times the background rate in two decades, could be correct.

"All the evidence is he’s right," said Stuart. "Some people claim it already is that … things can only have deteriorated because of the drivers of the losses, such as habitat loss and climate change, all getting worse. But we haven’t measured extinction rates again since 2004 and because our current estimates contain a tenfold range there has to be a very big deterioration or improvement to pick up a change."

Extinction is part of the constant evolution of life, and only 2-4% of the species that have ever lived on Earth are thought to be alive today. However fossil records suggest that for most of the planet’s 3.5bn year history the steady rate of loss of species is thought to be about one in every million species each year.

Only 869 extinctions have been formally recorded since 1500, however, because scientists have only "described" nearly 2m of an estimated 5-30m species around the world, and only assessed the conservation status of 3% of those, the global rate of extinction is extrapolated from the rate of loss among species which are known. In this way the IUCN calculated in 2004 that the rate of loss had risen to 100-1,000 per millions species annually – a situation comparable to the five previous "mass extinctions" – the last of which was when the dinosaurs were wiped out about 65m years ago.

Posted via email from Preposterous Guru

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