Museum Blog

Cool Science - Living Through Another Major Extinction Event

Posted 3/6/2011 12:03 AM by John Demboski | Comments
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Over the last few decades the scientific community has become increasingly more convinced that we are in the midst of or are on the cusp of a major extinction event.  To put it into perspective, there have been five documented, major extinction events in Earth's history over the last half a billion years.  The most well known, the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction event, occurred 65.5 million years ago when non-avian dinosaurs and other major groups disappeared.

Extinction happens and is typically, a normal, ongoing evolutionary process.  However, we know that species have been going fast, particularly in the last 500 years (e.g., dodo, thylacine, etc.), suggesting that the current rate of extinction may be accelerated.

A new study out of Anthony Barnosky's lab at UC Berkeley provides some hard data on the current extinction rate using mammals.  The researchers looked at the mammalian fossil record to deduce past extinction rates and concluded that the current rate is elevated.  In other words, much higher than the "average" extinction rate in the past.

Should we give up, is it too late?  No, maybe not, but studies like this should give us pause.

The paper was published in the journal Nature this past week.

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