March 29

The Sixth Mass Extinction Will Be Like Nothing in Earth's History

Jerald Schwartz
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 4 minutes

The sixth mass extinction — the one that seven billion humans are sadly doing their utmost to trigger at this very moment — is shaping up to be like nothing our planet has ever seen. That’s the conclusion of a sweeping new analysis, which compared marine fossil records from Earth’s five previous mass extinction events to what’s happening in the oceans right now.

“There is no past event that looks biologically like what’s happening today,” lead study author Jonathan Payne, of Stanford University, told Gizmodo. Unlike the past, Payne said, “processes like warming and ocean acidification are not the dominant cause of threat in the modern ocean”.

Instead, the dominant threat is people. It’s the nets, harpoons, and trawlers that are systematically emptying the oceans of fish and other marine life forms. Whereas the mass extinctions of the past tended to target organisms in certain environments, the sixth mass extinction is poised to hit the biggest animals the hardest. And that could have have profound implications for how our planet’s future unfolds.

A palaeontologist by training, Payne and his research group started compiling data on modern marine organisms several years back, in order to study how body size and ecological traits have changed over evolutionary time. Payne, who has studied the End Permian extinction event, which wiped out more than 95 per cent of all marine species 250 million years ago, soon realised that his dataset — comprising living and extinct members of nearly 2500 marine genera — could serve another purpose.

“We thought the data we had would allow us to examine extinction in the modern in a way that would be very comparable to the fossil record,” Payne said. “Our hope was that we might be able to identify past events that biologically were most similar to the extinction threat the oceans are facing today.”

So that’s exactly what the researchers did. By comparing the extinction threat faced by modern marine genera (as indicated by their official conservation status) with their ancestral counterparts, Payne and his colleagues discovered that modern extinction threat is more strongly associated with body size. Larger animals face a greater risk of disappearing than smaller animals.

In past mass extinction events, body size didn’t matter that much. Instead, it was an organism’s habitat that dictated its fate. Animals that lived in the open ocean, or pelagic zone, went extinct at a higher rate than benthic creatures living on the seafloor.

This difference in “extinction selectivity” can be explained by different drivers. During the End Permian, changes in ocean chemistry triggered by microbes, volcanoes, or some combination of the two are thought to have created a toxic environment for most marine life. At the end of the Cretaceous period, an enormous asteroid impact followed by supervolcano eruptions sent plumes of dust into the sky, choking out sunlight and cutting off the energy supply at the bottom of the food chain. In both cases, organisms that lived in more isolated, sheltered environments away from the ocean’s surface fared better.

Today, the dominant driver of marine extinction is people, and people aren’t terribly selective about what environments they pluck animals from. We go for the biggest game, fishing down the food web and removing top predators. Within species, too, we tend to hunt the largest individuals, which is why North Atlantic cod and Chesapeake oysters were historically much larger. “In a sense, we’re driving evolution ,” Payne said.

There are a few big caveats to the analysis. For the sake of comparison, Payne and his co-authors only analysed marine genera that have fossil counterparts, which means certain soft-bodied organisms that don’t preserve well (like octopods) were excluded. What’s more, they only looked at organisms whose extinction risk has been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That creates a rather serious bias toward big, charismatic groups: fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and the like. There are countless species of marine invertebrates that we simply don’t have enough data on to do a proper threat assessment.

Perhaps most problematically, the study excluded corals, which are currently in the midst of a catastrophic, global die-off. As habitat for roughly a quarter of all marine species, the loss of coral reefs due to global warming and ocean acidification would undoubtedly be a major blow to the health of the oceans overall.

Even considering these omissions, the pattern the authors uncovered implies that the trajectory of the sixth mass extinction could be unique. The loss of large animals tends to cause what ecologists call a “tropic cascade”, which is essentially a ripple effect down the food chain. Larger organisms also play an outsized role in global nutrient cycling: whale faeces fertilises the oceans with iron, for instance, while salmon migrations bring nitrogen and phosphorus upstream and even onto the land.

It’s unclear whether the loss of these ecosystem services will make it harder for marine life to recover, but it’s certainly a possibility. The study minces no words to this point: “the preferential removal of the largest animals from the modern oceans, unprecedented in the history of animal life, may disrupt ecosystems for millions of years.”

There is, however, a bright spot: things haven’t got too terrible yet. In Payne’s dataset, there is only one genus that has actually gone extinct in the past 500 years. While more species have gone extinct, and some genera are too poorly studied to be sure, we’re at best on the precipice of a sixth mass extinction. We can still turn this sinking ship around.

“We have the opportunity to totally avert this, if we make the right decisions,” Payne said. “Even on the land, where we have lost a bunch of large species, almost everything at the genus level is still here.”

“To claim we’re in a sixth mass extinction is something very enormous,” he continued. “It is a possibility. It is not the reality yet.”

By Maddie Stone/Gizmodo

Comments

Leave your questions here

To write a comment you must
or
Services
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter
Sort
 
All categories
Personal Development Coaching
$50 USD
Spiritual Coaching - Removing Energy Blocks - Expansion

> “Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens.” Jung

Spiritual coaching is about moving you into a profound state of empowerment and involution m…

Kimla Rose (Kim Desrosiers)
United States of America flag icon
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Life Purpose and Soul Wisdom

What is your deeper truth, your deeper knowing, your MOJO, your deepest desires, those feelings that you can’t explain but that are so pure and so clear…or may…

Anna Beale
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Pick one card

Many questions can be answer with just one Arcane. Do you want to try?

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$120 USD
THE SYNERGY OF THE PYRAMID

THE SYNERGY OF THE PYRAMID focuses on a specific relationship: One side for the consultant and one for their partner. (the partner does not need to be present …

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$100 USD
Timeline Reading

EGYPTIAN TAROT READINGS using unique methods developed by Nelise Carbonare, a Brazilian healer with more than 40 years of experience in tarot consultations, as…

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Nutritional Therapy
$150 USD
Nutritional Therapy Consultation

Hi my name is Aria and I am the founder of Heal with Nutrition. I am a registered Nutritional Therapist and a Naturopath who has a passion on Nutrition and Hea…

Aria Alexandrou
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
THOTH AND HERMETIC DECKS READING

With a deep knowledge of hermeticism and being introduced to the kabbalah tradition of the emanation process from the tree of life, I provide a deep insight co…

James Marchiori
Ireland flag icon
Personal Development Coaching
$55 USD
The Bridge to Your Desired Life

This is were you get real help with your struggles and life challenges. As life gets harder to cope with, we tend to look for external ways to get through. And…

Mina Mikhail
United States of America flag icon
Naturopathy
$10 USD
Intake Consult

short introduction consult to Integrative Medicine

Femke Neervoort
Netherlands flag icon
Career Coaching
$300 USD
Reset Coaching and Mentoring Programme

12 weeks of bi-weekly 90 minutes 1:1 Coaching and Mentoring. Total cost USD1800 (6x90minutes career coaching and mentoring session)

Are you returning to work …

Carla Martins
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Personal Development Coaching
$120 USD
Spiritual Life Coach Session-Personalized Session

Personalized Sessions

Because Everyone Is Unique

Client-centered sessions based on the area of focus requested by the client.

Each session is a LIVE Sessio…

Deborah Lucero
United States of America flag icon
Reiki
$55 USD
Guidance, Inspiration & Healing

This type of session is a favorite among many of my clients, as it is often times one of the smoothest way to address a challenge to reach a happier and health…

Mina Mikhail
United States of America flag icon
Mediumism
$10 USD
Psychic Readings

I specialize in love, past present future, future, past life, general, tarot, dream interpretation, specific, social, and career readings! Book today for clari…

Holly
United States of America flag icon
Life Coaching
$399 USD
1-on-1 Coaching

The journey started with our discovery call, and You decided: ” I’m ready! Let’s do this!”.

We will engage in 1-on-1 coaching sessions for 90 minutes. In this…

Carla Martins
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Ascension
$88 USD
Ascension Mentor Support

In this session, we come together with similar to a healing session but face to face.

We talk about what issues you are facing at the moment and we delve deep…

Claire C.
Australia flag icon
Spiritual Healing
$177 USD
Energy Healing

I am honored to assist you with intuitive channeled energy healings that support and nurture you on a physical level as well soul and energetic level, each ses…

Claire C.
Australia flag icon
Reiki
$375 USD
Usui Reiki 1st Degree Course

FIRST DEGREE COURSE - The ultimate Reiki course.

Have you ever wondered if you can heal? Have you felt a burning desire to help others? Then you’ve come to th…

Step Into Your Light - Christina Moore
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Hand Analysis - Startup Session

What does a hand analysis do for me? ​

You will understand yourself and your life purpose. ​You will understand the roots of your triggers and reactionary be…

Brent Bruning, Master Hand Analyst
Switzerland flag icon
Shamanism
$10 USD
Sample Akashic Records Reading for Your Burning Issue

I connect to your Akashic Records and listen to what your guides want to bring to your conscoius attention at this time. Perhaps, it is an insight into why you…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$300 USD
Shamanic Healing Art

What is Shamanic Healing Art?

It is a physical artwork (usually a pastel drawing) I make for you based on the outcome of our online session. This artwork will…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$70 USD
Heal to say "No"

A limits and boundaries shamanic healing session to help you heal relevant wounds and traumas from this and/or other lifetimes, let go of false beliefs, judgem…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$70 USD
Writer's Block Shamanic Healing Session

Before the Session

I do my pre-meditation to find out the main reasons for your writer’s block. (This happens psychically, where I generally just need your na…

Olga Aydınoğlu
5
Turkey flag icon
Third Eye Meditation
$70 USD
Third Eye Meditation Practice

During our online meeting, I will guide you through a meditation session for you to have a Third Eye perception experience. You do not need to know how to medi…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$70 USD
Shamanic Trauma Healing Session

Shamanic healing of trauma, that is most relevant and presents itself for healing at this time for you. This may include past life similar traumas, repeating k…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon

Related Articles