According to a new study, the extinction of mammals over the last 126,000 years has had more to do with negative impacts on humanity than with any climatic factor. Furthermore, calculations suggest that this by-product of our existence is a phenomenon that is accelerating at speeds never observed in prehistory.
“Based on current trends, we predict an escalation rate of unprecedented magnitude in the near future,” explains lead author Tobias Andermann, a computational biologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Using the bayesian model and fossil data provided by the Zoological Society of London, the researchers estimated that in the period studied at least 351 species of mammals have become extinct, with about 80 of them in the last 500 years. Taking this into account, the new calculations found that today’s extinction rate is around 1,700 times higher than it was in the late Pleistocene.
Looking back in time, the data suggests that the largest hypothetical cause for past extinctions is man, with population density and land occupation explaining various patterns with more than 96% accuracy.
‘These extinctions did not occur continuously and at a constant rate. Instead, outbreaks of extinctions are detected on different continents at times when humans first reached them. More recently, the magnitude of human-caused extinctions has accelerated again, this time on a global scale.’ Andermann points out.
“In contrast, global weather patterns, such as the maximum of the last ice age, have not left a detectable statistical trace in the extinction record,” he adds.
The current rate of mammalian extinction is probably the largest extinction event since the end of the age of dinosaurs, according to the researchers. Using computer simulations, they predict that these rates will continue to increase rapidly.
“By the year 2100, we predict that all areas of the world will have entered a second wave of extinctions,” the researchers write, noting that in some regions, the transition is already evident.
‘Based on what we have observed over the past decades, we find that Australia and the Caribbean in particular have already entered the second wave of extinction. This shows that even though our predicted rates for the future and associated biodiversity loss are frighteningly high, we are within a realistic range, given that we are already seeing these future scenarios manifesting themselves in some parts of the world, ‘they warn.
Given the abstract nature of these simulations, not all predictions are expected to come true. They are, after all, just estimates derived from mathematical calculations. That is why researchers believe that we still have time to prevent the reality of these figures from materializing.
Despite these gloomy projections, the trend can still change. We can save hundreds, if not thousands, of species from extinction with more specific and efficient conservation strategies. But to achieve this, we need to increase our collective awareness of the impending escalation of the biodiversity crisis and take action to combat this global emergency. Time is short. With each species lost, we irreversibly lose a unique part of the Earth’s natural history,” Andermann concludes.