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Study finds Earth is on verge of 'the 6th extinction'

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.

The study looks at past and present rates of extinction and finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought. Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.

"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm said from research at the Dry Tortugas. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."

The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was hailed as a landmark study by outside experts.

Pimm's study focused on the rate, not the number, of species disappearing from Earth. It calculated a "death rate" of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species.

In 1995, Pimm found that the pre-human rate of extinctions on Earth was about 1. But taking into account new research, Pimm and his colleagues refined that background rate to about 0.1.

Now, that death rate is about 100 to 1,000, Pimm said.

Numerous factors are combining to make species disappear much faster than before, said Pimm and co-author Clinton Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil. But the No. 1 issue is habitat loss. Species are finding no place to live as more places are built up and altered by humans.

Add to that invasive species crowding out native species, climate change affecting where species can survive, and overfishing, Pimm said.

The buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is a good example, Jenkins said. Its habitat has shrunk because of development in Brazil, and a competing marmoset has taken over where it lives. Now ,it's on the international vulnerable list.

The oceanic white-tip shark used to be one of the most abundant predators on Earth and they have been hunted so much they are now rarely seen, said Dalhousie University marine biologist Boris Worm, who wasn't part of the study but praised it. "If we don't do anything, this will go the way of the dinosaurs."

Five times, a vast majority of the world's life has been snuffed out in what have been called mass extinctions, often associated with giant meteor strikes. About 66 million years ago, one such extinction killed off the dinosaurs and three out of four species on Earth. Around 252 million years ago, the Great Dying snuffed out about 90 percent of the world's species.

Pimm and Jenkins said there is hope. Both said the use of smartphones and applications such as iNaturalist will help ordinary people and biologists find species in trouble, they said. Once biologists know where endangered species are they can try to save habitats and use captive breeding and other techniques to save the species, they said.

One success story is the golden lion tamarin. Decades ago the tiny primates were thought to be extinct because of habitat loss, but they were then found in remote parts of Brazil, bred in captivity and biologists helped set aside new forests for them to live in, Jenkins said.

"Now there are more tamarins than there are places to put them," he said.


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wnagle53 May 30 2014 at 7:04 AM

why don't these "experts" simply come out and state their actual agenda. That agenda is that we MUST reduce or eradicate the human population, except for them of course.
The ones who scream the loudest are often the one's who are the primary offenders (i.e. Al Gore, Barrack & Michell, Pelosi, etc.) They think without humans on the earth this planet would be a Garden of Eden, they don't realize it would be a JUNGLE.
Human beings are a natural earthly creation, and if the earth finds that we are not worth sustaining it will rid itself of us.

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13 replies
buckeye3118 May 30 2014 at 6:54 AM

Whatever it is, Al-Jazeera Gore will make money off of it.

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4 replies
crowland503 May 30 2014 at 5:56 AM

Extinction for whom? The global warming/climate changing-sky-is-falling alarmists may be good candidates. The end of the Democratic Party's incompetent leaders stand out as another. Sniveling "food police" advocates a third! A bit closer to a peaceful planet!

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8 replies
Jerry May 30 2014 at 7:58 AM

More crap nonsense funded with tax dollars to researchers "paid" to come to politically correct conclusions that will advance the Agenda 21 initiative. If you can't see this you don't understand how our world really works. We're not as uninformed or gullible as our parents' generation and we are capable of learning the truth. Now if we can learn to vote for other than establishment politicians we might have a chance of really changing the world for the better. Planetary stewardship is good, but the current global political agendas are very dangerous.

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5 replies
socraticknight May 30 2014 at 6:59 AM

this is why a growing group of experts know they world population has to be reduced by as much as 2/3-3/4. with too many people in third world countries multiplying at rates they can't support without having to be put on world welfare and billions of $s in donations in a wasteful and failing attempt to stop hunger; not to mention so many people in industrialized nations like the US not knowing how to raise children, and not wanting to keep family numbers at a manageable level without government assistance, it is no wonder why the world's natural resources and environment are dwindling. ask the "Zero Population" people what they think.

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3 replies
FRED May 30 2014 at 5:38 AM

I thought this was another effect of the lie about global warming. Trying to up the effect of the fraudulant way to gettimg more money from us to save the world. The sky is falling.

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4 replies
MERLIN May 30 2014 at 10:36 AM

the human population must be reduced to a survivable number or all will cease to exist

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2 replies
bonitoking61 MERLIN May 30 2014 at 2:08 PM

Start with yourself.

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msggov MERLIN May 30 2014 at 8:36 PM

This has been claimed for 200 years and was crud then as now.

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palots May 30 2014 at 7:44 AM

I knew climate change would be a factor....roflmao

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1 reply
johngin1999 palots May 30 2014 at 12:55 PM

Funny thing is that we have had ongoing "climate changes" since the earth was a gaseous cloud.
It's only the audacity of the liberals & stupidity of the masses that makes climate change something new & unique to mankind.
Yes there IS climate change. There always has been & always will be..........

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1 reply
ganderrrr johngin1999 May 30 2014 at 4:54 PM

Not at the current rate of change.

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RANDY May 30 2014 at 6:18 PM

I am disappointed, I thought the article was going to say that liberals were going to become extinct this year. Damn

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waphotomn May 30 2014 at 12:46 PM

Its really hard to believe some of the comments made by so called educated people are making about Mother Earth and the people who study the effects changing weather, melting ice shields at the poles and more. We are all hear on earth for a short period of time, make the best of it and help preserve it for future generations to come.

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