Have You Heard of the Sixth Extinction? And What Can We Do?

Extinction — a daunting word most of us have heard since childhood. We all know what it meant for dinosaurs, but what does it mean for us?

Let’s start from the beginning… there have been five times in our planet’s history where mass extinction events have occurred, when at least half of all species perish in a short period of time. The last mass extinction occurred 65 million years ago (bye-bye dinosaurs) and wiped out an estimated 75 per cent of all plants and animals. In present day, many scientists believe the next mass extinction is already occurring.

The Sixth Extinction

Polar Bear skull laying on ground in the tundra.

Mass extinction events take a long time. Regardless of whether we’re currently in one right now or at the beginning, there are a lot of species going extinct at a much higher rate than normal. According to The Sixth Extinction — An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbest, “the sixth extinction is predicted to be the most devastating since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.” And who’s to blame? Humans, of course. Kolbest states, “…those of us alive today not only are witnessing one of the rarest events in life’s history, we are also causing it.”

The Worst Part?

A staggering 2.9 billion birds have gone extinct since the 1970s.

The numbers predicted by scientists might actually be much more devastating. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 42,100 species as threatened with extinction on their Red List of Threatened Species. However, it is estimated that thousands of species are data-deficient (DD), meaning there is not enough data to accurately determine their risk of extinction.

This is extremely concerning as a recent study published in Communications Biology suggests that DD species as a group might be more threatened than those with sufficient data. For example, using machine learning-derived probabilities, predictions suggest 85 per cent of DD amphibians are likely to be threatened by extinction. It’s not looking promising for mammals and reptiles either, with an estimated 50 per cent of these DD species heading towards extinction as well.

How Can You and I Help?

Hundreds of square kilometres of Blanding’s Turtle habitat have been protected thanks in part to observations of this turtle on iNaturalist.ca

You might already be thinking of it… the tool that allows everyday Canadians to become citizen scientists — iNaturalist.ca! It is our gateway to understanding more about species across the globe and its use has never been more crucial than now. By uploading observations of living things, scientists are able to use this valuable data to map biodiversity. Just think… if millions of Canadians started to use iNaturalist.ca to record their observations in nature, many species would have the potential to become more understood.

Let’s start today >> visit iNaturalist.ca!

Listen to this story (and more) in the CWF podcast, “Your Connection to Wildlife” >