Humans, not climate change, blamed for 96% of mass extinctions among mammals

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — As the human population continues to grow, the number of animals we share this planet with seems to be shrinking every year. While many people focus on the effects of climate change, a new study argues man himself is doing more harm than anything else. Researchers in Sweden find human behavior accounts for 96 percent of all extinctions among mammals throughout history.

The University of Gothenburg says, over the last 126,000 years, the mammal extinction rate has increased 1,600 times compared to the natural rate animals die out. Even in prehistoric times, researchers contend humans impact biodiversity more than destructive climate events like the Ice Age.

“We find essentially no evidence for climate-driven extinctions during the past 126,000 years,” researcher Daniele Silvestro says in a university release.

Mammals can adapt to environmental changes

Study authors say mammals are historically resilient animals, adding that now-extinct species were able to handle extreme changes in their environment and the weather. These findings clash with some who believe climate change has been a constant influence on extinction throughout time. Silvestro believes when you add climate shifts to the list of man-made problems facing animals, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“Current climate change, together with fragmented habitats, poaching, and other human-related threats pose a large risk for many species,” the researcher in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences explains.

A previous study finds more than 500 land vertebrates are on the brink of extinction largely due to population growth, the destruction of animal habitats, and wildlife gaming and trading.

The human connection to mass extinctions

The study looks at large data sets of fossils, focusing on 351 extinct mammal species since the Late Pleistocene era. This includes many famous species who no longer walk the Earth, like mammoths, sabretooth tigers, and giant ground sloths. The report reveals wherever humans move, other species tend to die out.

“These extinctions did not happen continuously and at constant pace. Instead, bursts of extinctions are detected across different continents at times when humans first reached them. More recently, the magnitude of human driven extinctions has picked up the pace again, this time on a global scale,” says study co-author Tobias Andermann.

Researchers believe the current extinction rate is the highest since the end of the dinosaur era. The Swedish team warns this rate could continue to rise if certain human behaviors continue without change. The study estimates the extinction rate may reach 30,000 times above normal by the year 2100.

“Despite these grim projections, the trend can still be changed. We can save hundreds if not thousands of species from extinction with more targeted and efficient conservation strategies,” Andermann adds. “Time is pressing. With every lost species, we irreversibly lose a unique portion of Earth’s natural history”

The study appears in the journal Science Advances.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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