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Scientists make alarming discovery about inconspicuous extinction event: '[Likely to] come as a shock to many'

"The sobering thing is that this estimate could actually be conservative."

"The sobering thing is that this estimate could actually be conservative."

Photo Credit: iStock

Reckless interactions with animals have received significant attention in the social media-driven modern era, but scientists recently discovered an under-the-radar extinction event — the "vast majority" of which was likely caused by human behavior, according to the journal Nature

What's happened?

The study in Nature found that approximately 1,300 to 1,500 species of birds have been wiped from the face of the Earth over the past 126,000 years — more than 10% of the global population.  

"The sobering thing is that this estimate could actually be conservative," Jamie Wood, a terrestrial ecologist at Australia's University of Adelaide, told the journal, adding that the news probably will "come as a shock to many."

Notably, nearly 70% of the extinctions took place in the Pacific Region. Islands, which the journal notes have "isolated ecosystems," were hit especially hard, with those locations having 90% of documented extinctions. 

"Humans have had a much wider impact on bird diversity than previously thought," said Rob Cooke, an ecological modeler who helped with the predictive formula tracking known extinctions, fossil records, and estimates of undetected extinctions.

Why is this concerning?

When biodiversity declines, we lose some of the natural protections against disease, food insecurity, and the overheating of our planet, among other things. 

California condors, as an example, eat dead animals, preventing the spread of disease to livestock and humans, as well as the production of planet-warming gases from decaying carcasses.

The species recently almost went extinct because of toxins introduced by humans, including lead bullets, before conservationists intervened, as detailed by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

What can be done to help?

Folmer Bokma, an evolutionary biologist at Sweden's Karlstad University, told Nature that further research could help policymakers make more informed decisions about biodiversity targets. 

In the meantime, while human interactions with nature can be healing and awe-inspiring, our actions have a considerable impact on the health of our planet, whether through overfishing, illegal hunting, the use of toxic chemicals, or the introduction of invasive species.

Using non-chemical solutions to control pests, supporting eco-friendly brands, and ditching plastic are all ways to make the world a healthier place for humans and wildlife. 

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