We are currently living through the 6th great extinction. The 5th and most recent extinction was the one that put an end to the dinosaurs.

It’s hard to grasp the significance from a human perspective. Most of us live in urban environments, and we all only know the world that we’ve been born into. But every single day, dozens of species go extinct. Each one represents a unique branch on the great evolutionary tree. Each one is a light that can never be relit.

In the past, great extinction events have been caused by cataclysmic natural disasters like a volcano or an asteroid. But this time it’s different. This time it’s being done by humans.

Our collective decisions are resulting in the largest species die off this planet has seen for millions of years. From deforestation and climate change  to pesticide use and hunting, species from elephants to bees are at risk.

If things keep going on their present track, the rates of species extinction will only go up. We need to change course.

California Slender Salamander Endangered Species

The Importance of Biodiversity

Biodiversity isn’t just great because it furnishes our world with so many amazing and beautiful creatures. Biodiversity is an important part of a healthy ecosystem. A more diverse ecosystem is a more resilient, stronger network.

This is the great tragedy of our current rate of species loss. As we move deeper into the era of anthropogenic climate change, the pressure on vulnerable species gets worse. But as we lose species and our ecosystems become less diverse, they become less able to deal with these added pressures.

A diverse ecosystem is one where there are several species filling every niche, and where there are multiple species performing every necessary function. This makes the system more resilient, as a drop in the population of one species probably won’t be traumatic to the system as a whole.

But with lower biodiversity, there are less species filling the necessary roles. So if one of those species suffers a decline, the entire system can suffer too. Biodiversity is one evolution’s key defensive strategies.

Today, the world faces one of the gravest ecological threats it has ever faced in the form of climate change. But our planet’s evolutionary protection has been eroded over years of thoughtless, destructive human behavior.

Bonobo Conservation

  • Up to one third of all amphibian species are at risk of extinction, largely due to pollution, pesticides and climate change.
  • Roughly 20% of the world’s reptiles are at risk of extinction.
  • Up to one fifth of the worlds fish population is vulnerable.
  • 90% of the world’s large predatory fish (sharks, tuna, rays) are in decline. This is due mostly to overfishing.
  • Over 10% of the planet’s bird species are estimated to be threatened.
  • Invertebrates, like bugs, insects and mollusks, make up about 97% of all the world’s species in terms of diversity. Up to one third of the invertebrates are at risk.
  • Up to 50 percent of the worlds primates are at risk of extinction, largely due to deforestation. One fifth of the world’s mammals are also threatened.

A Change of Course

These are frightening figures, and they demand that we, as a civilization, change our behavior. We cannot continue to destroy our beautiful home and those who live there. We can make a difference.

Adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and working to live in harmony with the animals around us, is an important step towards healing. Choosing products that are produced ethically and eating food that is grown locally are all small contributions we can make as individuals to setting the world back on track.

See our Ways to Help page for more inspiring ways to be part of the solution.

Photo Credits

Cheetah Kruger” by Mukul2u – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wkimedia Commons

Kaldari Batrachoseps attenuatus 01” by Kaldari – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Male Bonobo Lola ya Bonobo 2008” by Evanmaclean – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons