Humans increased species extinction rate by 1,000 times, new study says

BY Justin Scuiletti  May 29, 2014 at 7:03 PM EST
The buffy-tufted-ear marmoset’s numbers have been directly affected by humans, due to shrinking habitats due to development in Brazil. Photo by Flickr user Jack Hynes

The buffy-tufted-ear marmoset’s numbers have been directly affected by humans, due to shrinking habitats due to development in Brazil. Photo by Flickr user Jack Hynes

Plant and animal extinctions are occurring at a rate of at least 1,000 times faster than the time before humans, a new study says.

In the study, published Thursday by the journal Science, lead author and biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University and colleagues, calculated a “death rate” of species going extinct each year out of 1 million. On a pre-human earth, the death rate was 0.1, but that number spiked to between 100 to 1,000.

The main reason is attributed to habitat loss, as animals are left without places to live as areas around the planet are being taken over and changed by human presence. With the added pressures of invasive species and climate change, the study writes, species are vanishing faster.

The study also warns that a sixth great extinction may be on its way. Five previous events, including the one that killed the dinosaurs, wiped out a majority of life on Earth in the times before humans. With continuing deforestation and climate change adding to the loss of species, the study questions whether humans will be involved in the next one.

The authors write, however, that there is hope. Technology, such as satellite imagery, allows scientists to track these species and take action. In addition, the public can aid by using smartphone applications that allow them to update data on where to find endangered species and habitats. Once identified, efforts can be made to save them and provide a chance to live on.