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Earth Science

Earth In the Midst of Sixth Mass Extinction: the 'Anthropocene Defaunation' 342

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
mspohr writes: A special issue of Science magazine devoted to 'Vanishing Fauna' publishes a series of articles about the man-caused extinction of species and the implications for ecosystems and the climate. Quoting: "During the Pleistocene epoch, only tens of thousands of years ago, our planet supported large, spectacular animals. Mammoths, terror birds, giant tortoises, and saber-toothed cats, as well as many less familiar species such as giant ground sloths (some of which reached 7 meters in height) and glyptodonts (which resembled car-sized armadillos), roamed freely. Since then, however, the number and diversity of animal species on Earth have consistently and steadily declined. Today we are left with a relatively depauperate fauna, and we continue to lose animal species to extinction rapidly. Although some debate persists, most of the evidence suggests that humans were responsible for extinction of this Pleistocene fauna, and we continue to drive animal extinctions today through the destruction of wild lands, consumption of animals as a resource or a luxury, and persecution of species we see as threats or competitors." Unfortunately, most of the detail is behind a paywall, but the summary should be enough to get the point across.
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Earth In the Midst of Sixth Mass Extinction: the 'Anthropocene Defaunation'

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  • no problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:03AM (#47531383)
    I had no intention of reading past the summary anyway. If that....
    • Welcome, brother, grab a cowl and toss your razor in the bin on your right. Is it state the obvious Friday already, or is this just another opportunity for an argument about human impact on the climate?
      • Nothing is obvious to the uninformed.

        • Re:no problem (Score:5, Insightful)

          by GNious (953874) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:45AM (#47531761)

          Nothing is obvious to the uninformed.

          Quite to the contrary - a lot of things are obvious to The Uninformed, though a lot of those things are wrong...

        • Re:no problem (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Immerman (2627577) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:59AM (#47531895)

          Very true. A few years ago I was tutoring at a community college and actually met a man who didn't realize the Earth went around the sun. At first I assumed he was pulling my leg, how could an American in this day an age not know that?!? But he was fascinated by the idea, and we had a long conversation about the basics of orbital mechanics and how they shape tides, the seasons, etc.

        • Nonsense. LOTS of things are obvious to the uninformed:

          Global warming, Young Earth, WMDs, chemtrails, anal probes... the list goes on and on. Granted, some of that is MISinformation, rather than lack of information, but I count misinformed as uninformed.

          OP:

          ... we continue to drive animal extinctions today through the destruction of wild lands, consumption of animals as a resource or a luxury, and persecution of species we see as threats or competitors.

          Well, I grant the "threats or competitors" part, to some degree. But the U.S. now has MORE forests and other wildlife habitat than it had 100 years ago. In my general area, wolves and peregrine falcons have been reintroduced, quite successfully (th

      • Re:no problem (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Pieroxy (222434) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:47AM (#47531791) Homepage

        Welcome, brother, grab a cowl and toss your razor in the bin on your right. Is it state the obvious Friday already, or is this just another opportunity for an argument about human impact on the climate?

        Nobody is citing climate change and all the animals they cite in TFS were extinct well before humanity is supposed to have had an impact on the planet's climate. So I guess it's the former if your two choices are the only ones I've got.

        But then again, I had no idea we were supposedly responsible for the extinction of mammoth.

        • But then again, I had no idea we were supposedly responsible for the extinction of mammoth.

          I guess you've never watched The Flintstones [blogspot.com].

        • Re:no problem (Score:5, Informative)

          by Layzej (1976930) on Friday July 25, 2014 @12:02PM (#47532509)

          Nobody is citing climate change and all the animals they cite in TFS were extinct well before humanity is supposed to have had an impact on the planet's climate.

          How about TFA?

          Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

          Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

          The scientists also detailed a troubling trend in invertebrate defaunation. Human population has doubled in the past 35 years; in the same period, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45 percent.

          As with larger animals, the loss is driven primarily by loss of habitat and global climate disruption, and could have trickle-up effects in our everyday lives.

        • Could have been a couple million stone-age people, or it could have been a freaking comet [scientificamerican.com].
        • I had no idea we were supposedly responsible for the extinction of mammoth.

          Why not? We've had evidence that we ATE them going back to the 1800's.

          The early 1800's

          • by Pieroxy (222434)

            The mammoth are extinct for more than 3.5 THOUSAND years. I seriously doubt there were any mammoth alive in the early 1800s. You're off by approximately one Jesus Christ as they went extinct in 1700 BEFORE JC.

  • ...then it's not considered important enough for the masses.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      "The world is coming to an end! Pay me money to find out how!"

      • "The world is coming to an end! Pay me money to find out how!"

        Hahaha, yeah - classic, it's always like that, something is doomed somewhere, and it's always paywalled or lead to a book, dvd, newspaper or something you have to buy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858)

        World's gonna end whether I pay or not, right? Then fuck it, I'm going to do the smart thing and give my money to that Asian guy who comes on my TV at about 2 AM every morning, and tells me that if I give him my money, he'll teach me to get as rich as he is.

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          World's gonna end whether I pay or not, right? Then fuck it, I'm going to do the smart thing and give my money to that Asian guy who comes on my TV at about 2 AM every morning, and tells me that if I give him my money, he'll teach me to get as rich as he is.

          I think he already did. People just aren't paying attention.

          But that method is so passe... Now it's "your miserable existence is ruining the earth. Give me your money so I can fix it." Now that I write that, I realize that it's a very similar mechanism to that used by the megachurches.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          I'm going to do the smart thing and give my money to that Asian guy who comes on my TV at about 2 AM every morning, and tells me that if I give him my money, he'll teach me to get as rich as he is.

          I'll give you a hint and spare you the money.

          You get a TV commercial, which says if people will send you money, you'll tell them how to be rich. ;-)

  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:08AM (#47531423)

    You guys sure about that? I'm pretty sure there's one sleeping a few cubes down from mine. At least, I hope that's a giant ground sloth...

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      You guys sure about that? I'm pretty sure there's one sleeping a few cubes down from mine. At least, I hope that's a giant ground sloth...

      I suspect that giant urban rats are starting to fill that niche.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:13AM (#47531485) Journal
    They were delicious. And we were hungry. God did give them tooth and claw. Despite it they did not defend themselves. May be they wanted to be eaten.

    You may not agree with this statement. But shockingly there is a strain of political thought in America that applies exactly this principle to the human society and the poor people. And ironically those who profess these "maker vs taker" are shocked when they are told they are practicing social Darwinism.

  • Personally, I take a very darwinian approach to my lawn. That is, so long as it grows, and can put up with the lawn mower, it can stay. I don't water. I don't spread chemicals. The result is that I have all kinds of fauna in my yard, some of which I am not sure are even native to this solar system.

    • by mlts (1038732)

      I like having a major chunk of the lawn be a garden. A co-worker has turned his front yard into one that is extremely productive, with a couple solar panels, a timer, and some PVC pipe for aeroponics (which actually is pretty water thrifty.)

      The ironic thing is that a lot of HOAs detest gardens... but when the food gets ripe, people there usually are the first who want the 100% organically grown items.

      Since people pay for that front yard space, might as well make it productive. If not a garden, then maybe

  • Not news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anzha (138288) on Friday July 25, 2014 @10:18AM (#47531535) Homepage Journal
    Old news. Frankly, the extinction has been going on since the beginning of the Holocene. Hallam said it best: there has never been a time when humanity has successfully and peacefully coexisted with nature.
    • Nature is not something that peacefully coexists with things to begin with. The only reason why it can appear that species are coexisting is that they are at an equillibrium left behind from driving the other 99.99..% of species extinct. To pick out humanity as a "problem" takes remarkable hubris.

      We might wipe out 99% of current species including ourselves, but as far as the earth or nature is concerned, or grander, the universe, it doesn't make one shitpile of difference.

      The only thing we should be concern
      • I guess to boil it down to a shorter point, it is this:

        Any other apex predator species given the same capability and opportunity would do the same as we did. We know this, because they do (that's why we have problems with invasive species).

        For us to single ourselves out as 'special' or 'remarkable' is flawed. Possibly, so is the idea that this is even a bad thing. I mean, one of the tenants of punctuated equilibrium is that species evolve fastest when under high pressure and presented with new opportunities
        • Re: Not news (Score:5, Insightful)

          by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday July 25, 2014 @11:21AM (#47532137) Homepage Journal

          For us to single ourselves out as 'special' or 'remarkable' is flawed.

          All my life I've tried to figure out what it is that makes humans different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

          I used to think it was our capacity to learn, but science disproved that.

          Then I thought maybe it was our ability to teach, but science disproved that one as well.

          But now I think I finally have it figured out, why Man is so much different than the rest of the animal kingdom -

          Human beings have the ability and need to rationalize their behavior, no matter how banal or malicious said behavior may be.

          What'dya think?

          • I would say Humans are the most "self aware" of any species on this planet.
            Yes, Apes, Dolphins, etc are in the category too, but Humans live with the constant chirping of the "chattering monkey".

            This self awareness leads to the heavy weight of Free Will...
        • by dywolf (2673597)

          we are the cause of most species going extinct in the modern era.
          natural extinction is longer drawn out process. even the extinction of the dinosaurs took a few thousand years.
          and in that process they are frequently replaced, or the beginings of a replacement, by a new critter on the rise, or other critters filling in, or whatever equilibrium ends up being reached.

          but therein lies the problem. not only are WE the cause, we are doing it far faster than nature can cope and adapt.

          and we're not really an apex p

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You fucking idiot, we *live* *in* this environment. By fucking it up, we fuck up our own chances at survival.

        If we can't leave parts of the planet to themselves, what makes you think we'll leave each other around either?

        Our time is limited. If we want to raise species diversity for... whatever reason,

        How about just keep what is there? (At no point has diversity *inreased*!) And it's not for "whatever reason". It's for practical reasons. We are 100% dependent on the diversity of things. Kill the diversity of the bacteria in your gut, and I'll take bets how long you'll live. Do it on globa

      • Beyond that, any notion that we should be ashamed of how we have treated other species, destroyed habitats and whatever seems asinine.

        Agent Smith:
        I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area.
        There is another organism on this planet that

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      The Americas were pretty ecologically lush when the Europeans first arrived, despite being pretty thoroughly settled for 5-10,000 years at that point. In fact the population was so dense that the journals of early European explorers report that the smoke from their cook fires was visible for a week before the land itself came into view. Now, a scarce 500 years later, the vast hardwood forests have been exterminated and the great plains have expanded from the Mississippi all the way to the Appalachians and

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Or perhaps the entire idea of 'peacefully coexisting with nature' is completely, utterly wrong and a romantic, emotionalized intellectualism first dreamed up by Thoreau and lately enfranchised by Greens because it thrums sympathetic heartstrings of the same naive urbanites that think you can hand-feed wild animals or coexist with bears (Grizzlyman!) because they're cute?

      NO species "peacefully coexists with nature". Zero. Nature is a cold-hearted bitch, and to "win" against it, species have evolved their o

      • How should any species on this world be able to reproduce and grow fast enough to 'adapt' to the human onslaught?
        A human needs roughly 14 years from birth to fertility.
        We have something like 7 billion people on the planet.
        Some whale populations are down to a thousand. They need 7 years or more, too, to reach fertility.
        Even with the most crude and primitive boats and weapons it would be a matter of a few years to extinct EVERY species of whale on this world.
        And you blame them for not multiplying fast enough!

    • A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says "You need to stop smoking." Man says "SNORE! Old news, you told me that last time, tell me something I don't know!" and lights up. The man dies shortly thereafter *.

      It is news because it is still happening and most people don't know it, or like to pretend we're not in for rough times. If a story is a duplicate on slashdot, then that's one thing. If it's so obvious that everyone already knows it, then that's also fair to object.
    • by swillden (191260)

      Hallam said it best: there has never been a time when humanity has successfully and peacefully coexisted with nature.

      That would be a nice quote, but it contains an implicit assumption which is seriously wrong: That there is any distinction between humanity and nature.

      It's not surprising that we tend to see ourselves as distinct from the rest of nature, because we are dramatically different from all other forms of life around us, and not just because we're self-centered, or even because we're objectively hugely more successful than any other species. We're dramatically different because we're the only species we know of

  • Without RTFA, have they surveyed our dumps and sewers? I'm sure there are a huge number of new species that are arising out of our garbage just waiting to take over. I just hope they don't have a hanker'n for BBQ humans.

  • Because animals are TASTY! In fact I'm going to go have some chicken and cow for lunch... If I choose hotdogs, Then I get Chicken,Cow, Pig, Rat, Squirrel, and Mystery animal all on one!

    • Myself, I've always been a firm believer that at least one meal every day should include an ingredient that had a mother.

  • Doesn't that mean we are winning the race for species domination just as every other species on Earth attempts and has attempted to do until resources cause the decline?

    The reality is Earth's clock is ticking. All resources need to be exhausted to find a way off of this rock or sustain life in the harsher confines of deep space. Otherwise, what are we really doing with our advantage over all the other species past and present? You want a long term goal for humanity? There it is. Survival of the species beyo

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      That's a great long term strategy to take to our next planet(s): use up all available resources as quickly as possible. Sure is easier than figuring out how to live sustainably with what's availble.
  • Wow; This is an amazing thread. Does it pay very well?
    I can blow smoke rings outta my ass as well as any of you.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake

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