A new study has found that 73 vertebrate genera have gone extinct in the past 500 years due to human activities, a rate of extinction 35 times higher than the natural background rate. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that the ongoing mass extinction could have devastating consequences for human civilization.
The study’s authors, Gerardo Ceballos and Paul Ehrlich, analyzed data on 5,400 genera of land-dwelling vertebrates. They found that birds suffered the heaviest losses, with 44 genus extinctions, followed by mammals (21 genus extinctions), amphibians (5 extinctions), and reptiles (3 extinctions).
Some of the extinct genera include elephant birds and sloth lemurs of Madagascar, the Tasmanian tiger, the flightless moa of New Zealand, the Yangtze River dolphin, the passenger pigeon of North America, and the saddle-backed giant tortoise of Rodriguez Island in the Indian Ocean.
Ceballos and Ehrlich warn that the extinction of genera could have a devastating impact on ecosystems and human well-being. When a genus disappears, it could take tens of millions of years for the gap to be filled through the evolutionary process of species emergence. This could lead to increased exposure of humans to diseases and other threats.
The scientists call for “immediate political, economic, and social efforts of an unprecedented scale” to prevent further extinctions and their societal impacts.