Extinction rates not as bad as feared ... for now

Jan 24, 2013
The rate of species extinction may not be as bad as first thought but recording of species is still a mammoth task. Credit: Griffith University

Concerns that many animals are becoming extinct, before scientists even have time to identify them, are greatly overstated according Griffith University researcher, Professor Nigel Stork.

Professor Stork has taken part in an international study, the findings of which have been detailed in "Can we name Earth's before they go extinct?" published in the journal Science.

Deputy Head of the Griffith School of Environment, Professor Stork said a number of have fuelled these fears, and there is no evidence that are as high as some have feared.

"Surprisingly, few species have gone extinct, to our knowledge. Of course, there will have been some species which have disappeared without being recorded, but not many we think," Professor Stork said.

Professor Stork said part of the problem is that there is an inflated sense of just how many animals exist and therefore how big the task to record them.

"Modern estimates of the number of eukaryotic species have ranged up to 100 million, but we have estimated that there are around 5 million species on the planet (plus or minus 3 million)."

And there are more scientists than ever working on the task. This contrary to a common belief that we are losing taxonomists, the scientists who identify species.

"While this is the case in the developed world where governments are reducing funding, in the number of taxonomists is actually on the rise.

"World-wide there are now two to three times as many taxonomist describing species as there were 20 years ago."

Even so, Professor Stork says the scale of the global taxonomic challenge is not to be underestimated.

"The task of identifying and naming all existing species of animals is still daunting, as there is much work to be done."

Other good news for the preservation of species is that in the past few years have done a in protecting some key areas of rich biodiversity.

But the reprieve may be short-lived.

"Climate change will dramatically change species survival rates, particularly when you factor in other drivers such as overhunting and habitat loss," Professor Stork said.

"At this stage we have no way of knowing by how much extinction rates may escalate.

"But once global warming exceeds the 2 degree barrier, we can expect to see the scale of loss many people already believe is happening. Higher temperature rises coupled with other environmental impacts will lead to mass extinctions"

Explore further: Call for alternative identification methods for endangered species

More information: "Can We Name Earth's Species Before They Go Extinct?," by M.J. Costello et al., Science, 2013.

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User comments : 15

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NotParker
2.8 / 5 (11) Jan 24, 2013
AGW - All Exaggeration - All The Time.
xen_uno
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 24, 2013
Why can't extinction occur within a certain species .. such as a bad genetic line such as yours that sees conspiracy in everything?
NotParker
3.2 / 5 (9) Jan 24, 2013
Why can't extinction occur within a certain species .. such as a bad genetic line such as yours that sees conspiracy in everything?


Think of it this way. I live in a mild climate. In the last 5 years I have seen it go as cold as -19C and warm as 35C.

Animals can deal with a 54C swing. Some migrate north and south etc etc.

Why would sane person think a 2C rise (which isn't going to happen) over 100 years would cause mass extinctions when 54C swings don't?
C_elegans
4 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2013
54C are seasonal, 2C rise is not. Imagine hibernating animals. And that is thus far, have you seen beijing lately?

Most animals are adapted to the cycles of their habitats. Perturbing these, especially artificially, can have dire unforseen consequences.

Take for instance, snow cover. In the USA, typical ground temperature under a layer of snow is ~32 degrees. Under no snow, it is equal to the temperature of the surrounding envrionment.

Just a thought.

-elegans
Eric_B
1.9 / 5 (7) Jan 25, 2013
know what i think?

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NotParker
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 25, 2013
54C are seasonal, 2C rise is not. Imagine hibernating animals. And that is thus far, have you seen beijing lately?

Most animals are adapted to the cycles of their habitats. Perturbing these, especially artificially, can have dire unforseen consequences.

Take for instance, snow cover. In the USA, typical ground temperature under a layer of snow is ~32 degrees. Under no snow, it is equal to the temperature of the surrounding envrionment.

Just a thought.

-elegans


Have you ever actually looked at temperatures.

From year to year July can be 3C up to 36C. And those are actual min and max for where I live. Not average min and max for July, but what can actually happen.

Animals plants have adapted to that. They can deal with 2C.

Of course 2C won't happen. Next ice age will happen first.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (6) Jan 25, 2013
Good news ... and potentially bad news.

Science denialists shouldn't comment on science, it is hilarious and shows the public that denialism is nitwittery.

As even a cursory study of reviews of climate science shows, say IPCC thorough ones, climate science has been exceedingly successful with AGW. The problem is rather that scientists are forced to be conservative.

But FWIW we already suspect there won't be a "next" ice age. The current 400 ppm has historically, with 70 % certainty, made 4 degC increase, which is (IIRC) outside the ice age envelope.

Extinction rates are not part of climate science, it is part of biology. That is why taxonomists do the leg work.

That the current AGW already affects the biosphere is well observed. That similar climate changes affects diversity is well observed. And this GW rate is exceptional, due to the extreme anthropic forcing that is larger than natural forcings. (It has to be by definition, or we wouldn't name the new climate regime "A"GW.
freethinking
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2013
Who would have thought that environmentalist would either lie or exaggerate.

Global warming, now there's the problem. According to the Great High Priest of Environmental Religion, Al Gore, we are Doomed.
NotParker
2 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2013

But FWIW we already suspect there won't be a "next" ice age. The current 400 ppm has historically, with 70 % certainty, made 4 degC increase, which is (IIRC) outside the ice age envelope.


The Eemian was warmer. The Eemian ended. Our warm period is ending. The AMO is or will turn negative. 30 years of cooling for eastern NA and Europe.

The last time the AMO and PDO were both negative was the 1970s - ice age scare time.

http://wwwpaztcn....404.html
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2013
Concerns that many animals are becoming extinct, before scientists even have time to identify them, are greatly overstated
But the lack of description is not the problem of extinction. What we are losing is the genetic information, which evolved billions of years at the unique place of the Universe and which survived billions of years of its self-improvement. This genetic information may contain the clues for immortality, for cancer cure/resistance and solutions for many other biochemical and bioengineering problems. The free market economy cannot account to the price of natural resources until they're not expressed in money at some market. When we lose them, we lose to chance to utilize them commercially for ever. Which is why the protection of natural resources cannot be a subject of free-market economy, which accounts to the actual prices only and its naturally unstable by itself.
NotParker
1 / 5 (3) Jan 26, 2013
Concerns that many animals are becoming extinct, before scientists even have time to identify them, are greatly overstated
But the lack of description is not the problem of extinction. What we are losing is the genetic information,


There is a higher chance of wind farms causing bird/bat extinctions than predited warming of 1C or 2C causing extinctions.

http://sunshineho...rderers/
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2013
The warming of 1C or 2C is equivalent the shifting of attitude by 1 km. It may mean, many bird species which are living at the bellow 1 km attitude will be forced to occupy the environment at the 1 - 2 km attitude, the total area of which is 100x smaller. This would indeed introduce a big stress to the bird/bat population (the bats need the karst caves for their wintering, which are missing in higher altitudes, and so on). So I wouldn't underestimate the influence of global warming for the extinction of species.
NotParker
1 / 5 (3) Jan 26, 2013
The warming of 1C or 2C is equivalent the shifting of attitude by 1 km. It may mean, many bird species which are living at the bellow 1 km attitude will be forced to occupy the environment at the 1 - 2 km attitude, the total area of which is 100x smaller. This would indeed introduce a big stress to the bird/bat population (the bats need the karst caves for their wintering, which are missing in higher altitudes, and so on). So I wouldn't underestimate the influence of global warming for the extinction of species.


Well, as I said earlier, even where I live, July temperatures can swing from 3C to 36C.

If the birds have adapted to 33C range of temps now, they can adapt to a gradual change of 1C. As it looks now, the temperature will probably drop 1C.
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2013
they can adapt to a gradual change of 1C
Or they may not. The warm winters are helping in growth of fungi spores and another pests and the bats are dying from white nose syndrome. The similar problem exists with wintering of vertebrates by now.

The problem is, the adaptability of biosphere was already lowered with great expansion of human civilization, which destroyed many feedbacks mechanisms and natural equilibriums. The populations of birds and bats are relatively sparse and non-vital by now and as such vulnerable to all environmental changes. What wouldn't be a serious problem in virgin nature before four hundred years becomes a great trouble by now.
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2013
We should realize, if the higher altitude species could adapt to the higher temperatures, they would do it already before many years. What prohibited the European bats to expand into Mediterranean areas during last thousands years? If they didn't manage to adopt into elevated temperatures during last post-glacial, the will not do it during next forty years anyway.

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