UCSB Researcher Examines ‘Sixth Extinction Wave’

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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The phrase “sixth extinction wave” alone is quite frightening. But its destructive implications on species populations could be much worse. The brutal consequences of what is dubbed Anthropocene defaunation, or the “recent pulse of animal loss,” was the focus of an article published in Science last week. UCSB researcher Hillary Young contributed to the report, which called for action to mitigate animal overexploitation and land-use change in order to buy time to address anthropogenic climate disruption.

“It is pretty grim,” said Young, who has spent her career studying what it means for humans when communities disassemble. “I think a lot of the reason we tried to write this paper was an alarm call.”

According to the study, overexploitation and human destruction of habitat are the key drivers of wildlife population decline and extinction. Notably, the study notes Anthropogenic Climate Disruption will likely soon go head-to-head with habitat loss as the most important driver of defaunation, or a decline of an ecosystem from human impact.

The article in Science runs through a number of startling statistics. Of the roughly 5 to 9 million species on the planet, the report states Earth is likely losing 11,000 to 58,000 species each year. And this does not even reflect “local extinction” — species dying off in a certain area — or declines in species population sizes. Further, between 16 and 33 percent of all species are globally threatened or endangered. (Debate about exactly when humans started to impact ecosystems around the globe still exists, the article notes.)

The article also discusses invertebrate biodiversity — worms and insects — which receives considerably less attention in the conservation realm. “We motivate conservation by putting panda bears on our products,” Young explained. “Those are creatures people want to know what is happening to. But they are often pretty low density creatures, and they don’t drive ecosystems that drive and change pollination.” Insect pollination, on the other hand, contributes to 10 percent of the world’s food supply. And pollinators appear to be disappearing in both abundance and diversity, the study states, which have been linked to steep declines in relative abundance of plant species reliant on those pollinators.

So what does Young do to stay upbeat and do her part to mitigate widespread disaster? “We can all try to drive our hybrid cars and address carbon dioxide emission…. Don’t buy animal products when you don’t have to,” she said. “And eat lower on the food chain.” Overconsumption is probably the biggest issue, she added. Though it’s such a large scale problem, anything you can do to affect those drivers will help, Young said.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

How about over population?
Way to many folks out there for us to be having large families..

sslocal (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 2:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And using up resources too!

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 3:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Watch Sheldon Whitehouse Totally School His Climate Change-Denying Colleague

tabatha (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

More hot temperatures.

Note the comments:

How do the events of the last two years compare to what climate models were predicting for this early in the global warming progression?

robertscribbler / July 31, 2014
Not entirely. The temp climate models are pretty accurate once you account for PDO and other variables. Deep ocean warming is faster than expected. Arctic warming is a bit faster than expected. Atmospheric warming, overall, a limitless lower. Sea ice melt in the north is faster than expected. Sea ice growth in the south is mostly unexpected. Methane destabilization … Probably faster than expected but we don’t know enough to be sure.

Ocean stratification — faster than expected. Ice sheet destabilization — faster than expected.

Drought model predictions — about spot on. Fire model predictions — accurate. Jet stream changes — mostly unexpected.

Overall, it appears more heat is going into the Arctic, the oceans and the ice than expected and that, overall, the system is more dynamic than the base model summary. Model accuracy is key areas continue to make them useful tools for prediction but it’s fair to say that unexpected events outside the model description have arisen. It’s probably fair to say that such variance outside the base model tend may continue to arise, but that the model context, overall, has been an important, though not perfectly accurate predictor.

What’s funny was that the models were mostly right about drought progression. No-one really listened to the drought models because, well, they were among the worst future indicators. And now here we are.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
July 30, 2014 at 10:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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