Since the formation of the Earth, there have been five mass extinction events, the most recent was 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, famously leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, in recent decades, scientists have found reason to think we may be in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.

A ‘mass extinction’ or ‘extinction event’ can be defined as a rapid and widespread loss in biodiversity (Gingerich, 2020). With the IUCN predicting that 99.9% of critically endangered species and 67% of endangered species may be lost within the next 100 years (IUCN, 2019), there are strong indicators for the presence of a 6th mass extinction event. 

6th mass extinction

Cumulative vertebrate species recorded as extinct or extinct in the wild by the IUCN (2012). Dashed black line represents background rate. This is the ‘highly conservative estimate’. Source: Ceballos et al. (2015).

The human population is estimated to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 (UN, 2019), so there will be even further increases in demand and consumption. This increasing population is threatening biodiversity in the following ways:


Why is biodiversity important?

importance of biodiversity ecosystems services

Source: de Knegt, Bart. (2019).

The Takeaway

The 2019 ISPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services suggests that human activity has directly resulted in 1 million plant and animal species facing extinction (ISPBES, 2019). 

“if all species currently designated as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable go extinct in the next century, and if that rate of extinction continues without slowing down, we could approach the level of a mass extinction in as soon as 240 to 540 years” (Greshko, 2019).

This article was written by Lizzie de Lusignan.

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