Analysis of thousands of vertebrate species reveals that extinction rates are likely much faster than previously thought. The researchers call for immediate global action, such as a ban on the wildlife trade, to slow the sixth mass extinction.
In 2015, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich co-authored a study declaring the world’s sixth mass extinction was underway. Five years later, Ehrlich and colleagues at other institutions have a grim update: the extinction rate is likely much higher than previously thought and is eroding nature’s ability to provide vital services to people.
Their new paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates the wildlife trade and other human impacts have wiped out hundreds of species and pushed many more to the brink of extinction at an unprecedented rate.
For perspective, scientists estimate that in the entire 20th century, at least 543 land vertebrate species went extinct. Ehrlich and his co-authors estimate that nearly the same number of species are likely to go extinct in the next two decades alone.
The trend’s cascading effects include an intensification of human health threats, such as COVID-19, according to the researchers. “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies, emeritus, at the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior fellow, emeritus, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption to which it is linked.”