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The End of

What is extinction?
Extinctions occur when the last
individual of a species dies out.
Functional Extinctions occur when
individuals remain but the odds of
sustainable reproduction are low
i.e. the species is effectively extinct
even though individuals remain.

The passenger pigeon

The last passenger pigeon in
Wisconsin was shot at Babcock,
in September, 1899. This is reportedly the last
passenger pigeon shot in the wild.
The last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died
alone at the Cincinnati Zoo at about 1:00 pm on
September 1, 1914.
Within a few decades, the once most-numerous bird on
Earth would be forever gone.

Even when Martha was still alive, the species was

already functionally extinct it would never return
to a sustainable population.

When do extinctions occur?

Extinctions occur when the environment of a
species changes faster than the species can
In other words, a species adaptations are no
longer sufficient in allowing that species to acquire
and compete for resources.

Extinctions can be local, widespread, or

For example, the timber wolf was until recently
extinct in Wisconsin but not in Minnesota
Wild elk and woodland caribou are now extinct in
Wisconsin but may be found on game farms.

Extinctions are natural.

Extinctions occur naturally.
Nearly all of the species that have
existed on earth have gone extinct.
There have been 5 major mass
extinctions in geological history.
Recovery from these events took
millions of years.

Mass Extinction Diagram


Mass Extinctions

Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction (65 mya).

End Triassic Extinction (200).
Permian Triassic Extinction (250).
Late Devonian Extinction (364).
Ordovician-Silurian Extinction (440).
Holocene Extinction (0 mya)
(#= millions of years ago)

The Holocene Extinction

Todays massive loss of species has been dubbed the
Holocene Extinction (we are currently in the Holocene
Epoch: a portion of a geological period

Catastrophic extinctions, as was the case when an asteroidstrike wiped out the dinosaurs, actually took many
thousands of years to occur.
The current extinction rate appears significantly greater.
In other words, human-activity is killing off species faster than an
asteroid could 65 million years ago.
Source: United States Committee on Scientific Issues in the
Endangered Species Act, National Research Council. Science and
the Endangered Species Act. National Academy Press,
Washington D.C. 1995

Current Stats
90% of all large fish have disappeared in the last 50 years due to overfishing.
Myers, Ransom. Worm, Boris. Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Rapid Worldwide Depletion
of Predatory Fish Communities. Nature. Volume 423. P. 280. May 2003

The Audubon Society reports that 30% of North American songbird

species are in significant decline.
One in eight plant species are in danger of extinction within the next 30
years (ICUN Red List)
The current rate of extinction is 1500 times greater than the normal,
sustainable extinction rate.
Bjrn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, Cambridge U. Press, Cambridge, 2001.

Half of bird and mammal species will be gone in 200 to 300 years
Levin, Phillip and Levin, Donald. The Real Biodiversity Crisis. January, 2002. American Scientist, Volume 90, Number
1, Page 6

One species is going extinct every 20 minutes.

Levin, Phillip and Levin, Donald. The Real Biodiversity Crisis. January, 2002. American Scientist, Volume 90, Number
1, Page 6

Modern Causes of
Major current causes of extinctions include:
Habitat Loss: fragmentation, degradation, and
outright destruction of ecosystems that support
native ecosystems (leading cause).
Invasive Species: the introduction or
overpopulation of species that over-consume
natural resources and are uncontrolled by
predators (second leading cause).
Over-harvesting: the removal of species at rates
that exceed reproduction
Pollution: introduction of harmful agents that
reduce the effectiveness of a species adaptations

The 4 Horsemen of
These main four causes
of extinction can be
thought of as the Four
Horsemen of Extinction.
Much like the biblical
horsemen of the
apocalypse, these four
factors have decimated
populations of living
species across the planet.

Profound Loss of Biodiversity

Information on the rate of species
introduction and the nature of the impacts of
introduced species on native species and
ecosystems allows inferences about
extinction rates.
The evidence all points to a global
tragedy with a profound loss of
Daniel Simberloff, professor of environmental
studies and director of the Institute for Biological
Invasions at the University of Tennessee

For the birds

Of about 6 to 10 million currently existing
species, we have still only identified 1 million.
For groups that we know well, knowledge of
very recent species extinctionsallows us to be
certain that extinction rates are comparable
to those of the great past extinctions.
For birds, of about 10,000 species worldwide
at least 128 have disappeared in the last 500 years
about 1,200 are currently seriously threatened with
extinction (all but three from human activities)
Daniel Simberloff

Since Plymouth Rock

Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims
landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than
500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our
US plants and animals have become extinct.
The situation in Earths most biologically rich
ecosystems is even worse.
There is nothing natural about todays rate
of extinction.

So why care?
Why does this matter?

Biodiversity & Medicine

More than a quarter of all prescriptions
written annually in the United States contain
chemicals discovered in plants and animals.
A few hundred wild species have stocked our
pharmacies with antibiotics, anti-cancer
agents, pain killers, and blood thinners.
We have only discovered 10-20% of living
species so far!

Biodiversity & Agriculture

There are almost 80,000 species of edible
Fewer than 20 produce 90 percent of the
worlds food.
4 crops (wheat, corn, rice, soybeans) provide
most of the worlds food.

If underutilized species are conserved, they

could help to feed growing populations.

Biodiversity & Crops

During the 1970s the U.S. corn crop was
almost completely wiped out by a leaf fungus.
The corn crop was saved by interbreeding it
with a rare species of wild corn from Mexico.
Genetic engineering may also offer some hope
by facilitating transfer of genes between
This increases the value of wild strains which can
be used as sources for new traits to be introduced
into crops.

Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services include air and water
purification, detoxification and decomposition of
wastes, climate regulation, regeneration of soil
fertility, and the production and maintenance of
biological diversity.
These are the key ingredients of our agricultural,
pharmaceutical, and industrial enterprises.
Such services are estimated to be worth trillions
of dollars annually.
We get these services for freefor now.

Biodiversity & Moral Obligations

Would our descendants forgive us for
exterminating a unique form of life?
Eliminating entire species has been
compared to ripping pages out of
books that have not yet been read.

Invasive Species

An introduction

What is a native species?

Native species are those that normally live and
thrive in a particular community. They occupy
specific habitats and have specific niches in their
native environment. They have natural predators
that help to keep their populations in check.

Pink lady's slipper, Cypripedium


Red fox, Vulpes vulpes

What is a non-native
A speciesliving outside itsnativedistributional
range, which has arrived there byhumanactivity,
either deliberate or accidental. Non-native
species are not necessarily invasive.

Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, was

introduced for use as an ornamental
plant, to control erosion, and to use as
living fences for livestock.

Zebra mussels (Dreissena

polymorpha), were accidentally
introduced to North America, and are
now found in some Pennsylvanian

What is a non-native invasive

A non-native species that adversely
affects habitats and biodiversity.

Emerald ash borer, Agrilus

planipennis , has killed millions of ash
trees in the mid-west and has recently
been found in Pennsylvania

Japanese stilt grass, Microstegium

vimineum, becomes established on
recently disturbed areas and
outcompetes native plants, reducing

Common characteristics of invasive

Invasive species in
Have few natural
competitors, parasites
or diseases
Have high
Characteristics that make Zebra
mussels a good invader include its
reproductive rates
ability to tolerate a wide-range of
environments, and high
Are long-lived
reproduction rate; female mussels
Are generalists
release up to 100,000 eggs ability to
tolerate a wide-range of environments
Are pioneer
how would these characteristics enable
a species to
become invasive?

What traits are common to invasive

plant species

Characteristics that make tree-ofheaven a good invader include its

ability to flower early (within 2
years), ability to spread asexually,
and fast growth rate.

Flower early
Produces abundant
Disperse seed
Grow rapidly
Spread asexually
Strong competitors

Example: Japanese stilt

What makes Japanese stilt grass a
successful invader?
It can become established and live in a
wide variety of habitats
Each plant produces hundreds of seeds
that can remain viable in the seed bank
for upward of five years.
Seed can be transported long distances
by water or contaminated hay, seed mix
and soil.
Plants also reproduce asexually. They
form roots at the nodes, which allows for
new vegetative stem growth.
People can spread stilt grass by carrying
the seeds on their shoes, equipment and

Example: Garlic Mustard

What makes garlic mustard a
successful invader?
It can germinate in shade
Is capable of ballistic seed
dispersal of up to 10 feet
Its seeds lie dormant for up to 6
Its seed spread by animals and
It forms spreading monocultures
It is allelopathic: it produces
chemicals that inhibit the growth of
other plants

Impacts of invasive species

Displace native species:
Japanese stilt grass displaces native herbaceous plants,
reducing biodiversity, and reducing food available for wildlife

Monoculture of Japanese stilt grass,

prevents establishment of native
herbaceous species

Diversity of herbaceous species

increases wildlife habitat

Impacts of invasive species

Reduce forest health and productivity

Monoculture of Japanese barberry prevents the

establishment tree seedlings

Impacts of invasive species

Some invasive species kill native
About of the hardwood trees in Pennsylvania used to be
American chestnut. The invasive chestnut-blight fungus killed
most American chestnut throughout the eastern US by 1950.

American chestnut, Castanea dentata,

at Grey Towers National Historic Site in
Milford, PA, circa 1905

American chestnut infected with

chestnut blight fungus, Cryphonectria

Impacts of invasive species

Indirect impacts:
Hemlock woolly adelgid is killing Eastern hemlock trees
throughout Pennsylvania and the northeast. Eastern hemlock
forests play an important role in maintaining stream
temperatures and oxygen levels favorable for brook trout.
Hemlock mortality leads to increased water temperatures and
oxygen levels, and therefore reduced brook trout populations.

Hemlock woolly

Hemlock woolly
adelgid infestation

Hemlock mortality
along stream bank

Impacts of invasive species

Economic impacts:
Invasive species are responsible for
tremendous economic losses through
loss in forest and agricultural
productivity, spread of diseases that
impact humans, among other impacts.

European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris,

spread diseases to wildlife,
livestock, and humans, damage
agricultural crops, and displace
native birds. Their damage to
agricultural crops is estimated at
$800 million annually.

What you can do

When boating, clean your boat thoroughly before transporting it to a
different body of water.
Clean your boots before you hike in a new area to get rid of hitchhiking
weed seeds and pathogens.
Dont move firewood (it can harbor forest pests like emerald ash borer).
Don't release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals
into the wild. If you plan to own an exotic pet, do your research and
plan ahead to make sure you can commit to looking after it.
Volunteer at your local park, refuge or other wildlife area to help remove
invasive species. Help educate others about the threat.