If Half of All Species Go Extinct, Will One of Them Be Us?

Biodiversity JengaMartin Sharman

How many animal species do you think go extinct every year? Last week I conducted a highly unscientific polling of around 20 of my Facebook and Google Chat contacts, asking that same question. I’m not trying to brag, but I have some really smart friends, many of them with degrees in biology. Typical answers ranged from about 17 to a seemingly ludicrous 400. They were all wrong though—off by orders of magnitude*. In July, a summary article of nearly 80 papers, published in Science, stated that, “Of a conservatively estimated 5 million to 9 million animal species on the planet, we are likely losing ~11,000 to 58,000 species annually.”

If that finding is true, then every year, between .12% and 1.16% of all the animals on Earth vanish. Rodolfo Dirzo, the lead researcher on the Science study from Stanford University, points out

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus9 min readSociety
How Women Came to Dominate Neuroendocrinology: A scientific field founded by men is now mostly female.
When Kathleen Morrison stepped onto the stage to present her research on the effects of stress on the brains of mothers and infants, she was nearly seven and a half months pregnant. The convergence was not lost on Morrison, a postdoctoral researcher
Nautilus2 min read
Announcing a Black Hole Essay Competition from Harvard
The Black Hole Initiative (BHI) at Harvard University announces the first-ever Black Hole Essay Competition, inviting submissions that explore novel connections and new perspectives on black hole research. The BHI awards, including a $10,000 First Pr
Nautilus7 min read
7 Awesome Solar System Destinations That Will Kill You
In the why-aren’t-you-watching-this television show The Expanse, humanity has spread out into the solar system. Mars and Earth stand as bitter rivals, with Ceres settlers somewhere in between. A few companies even have settlers in the outer regions o