Extinction: A Big (and Small) Problem, Part 1

Mountain lion, coyote, and fox skulls.

Welcome to the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth. While extinction is a natural process (on average 1-5 species go extinct per year), there’s no doubt that humans have kicked it into overdrive since becoming the planet’s dominant species. Now, dozens of species go extinct every day — some before we even notice their existence.

Five other mass extinctions have occurred in the past (an event called the KT extinction wiped out the dinosaurs and 75% of all other life 65 million years ago), but this is the first time we can say that a mass extinction is being caused, or at the very least sped up, by a single species.

So why is this happening? Are we going out and killing all of these organisms by hand? Not exactly. Poaching and over-harvesting are certainly huge threats to wildlife, but our mere presence on Earth has more of an impact than many realize. 7.5 billion-plus people need a lot of space to live, grow food, and build infrastructure. Habitat destruction and fragmentation (breaking up one high-quality chunk of habitat into smaller, lower-quality pieces) is the leading cause of loss of biodiversity (diversity of living species) on Earth.

Nevada is fairly developed but still among the least populated of states. Recent conservation victories such as the reptile collection ban and sage grouse conservation credit system offer hope that we can stem the loss of biodiversity in our state, and even set a precedent for the rest of the world! Tune in next time for Part 2, in which we discuss specifics about the ongoing 6th extinction and why it’s such a big — and small — problem.



Aaron Huelsman

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