The Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Is Accelerating

In three human lifetimes, the world could be a radically different place. But it’s not too late the help most vulnerable animals on our planet.

We are currently in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event and it’s accelerating. Known as the Holocene extinction, this event has been occurring for the last 10,000 years, beginning at the end of the last ice age. But an increasing human population and a warming planet have only made this mass extinction even more dire.

According to Science Alert, a huge majority of “vertebrate extinctions seen in the 20th century” are set to happen again. For example, in the 20th century, it’s estimated that we lost “at least 543 land vertebrate species” to extinction. The study authors believe that we’re set to lose about the same amount of species within the next 20 years or so.

A new problem we have to contend with is the fact that the extinctions that have previously taken hundreds of years to come to fruition will now take mere decades. This means losing hundreds of species in a very short amount of time, which will disrupt ecosystems, food chains, and even the way humans live.

Consider the humble bee. We need them to continue pollinating the crops that we eat—including apples, blueberries, cranberries, melons, and broccoli. California also depends on honey and bumble bees to support its $11 billion almond market. Bees are such effective and valuable pollinators that farmers pay apiarists to bring colonies to their fields to pollinate fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

While they honey bee is currently not listed as endangered, the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) is per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In fact, bumble bees almost exclusively support the majority of tomato pollination and in some cases, are even better at pollination than honey bees. This is due to their ability to remove pollen that’s firmly attached to a host plant via a process known as buzz pollination or sonication.

Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist and researcher with the National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), says that how we handle “the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species.”

In their study, Ceballos and two co-authors say that the Holocene “may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilization because it is irreversible.” They explain that a rapidly increasing human population in conjunction with “consumption rates” are two of the leading extinction causes.

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