Scientists predict 'unprecedented magnitude' of mammal extinctions in near future

The Western chimpanzee is listed as a critically endangered subspecies and the Chester Zoo conservation population seen as vital to help protect its future. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

Scientists have examined fossil records from the past 126,000 years and predict an “unprecedented magnitude” of mammal extinctions in the near future.

A new study from the U.S. journal Science Advances looked into the impact humans had on past and present extinction of mammals. Researchers found that human population size in many parts of the world will “undoubtedly pose a serious challenge for the future conservation of biodiversity."

Researchers suggest that human activity is almost entirely to blame for the extinctions of mammals in past decades, and will likely be the cause of at least 558 extinctions within the next century.

“By the year 2100, we predict all areas of the world to have entered a second wave of extinctions,” the study says. “We find that Australia and the Caribbean in particular have already today entered the second extinction wave [...] we can already see these future scenarios being manifested in parts of the world.”

Despite the findings, scientists say there is still a window of opportunity to prevent many species from going extinct by improving conservation efforts.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently has more than 120,000 species on their red list of threatened species. Many conservation successes have taken place in recent years, with some species moving toward less threatened IUCN categories.

The Ethiopian wolf and giant Chinese pandas are two species who have benefited greatly from renewed conservation efforts and public awareness campaigns, according to the IUCN. In Ethiopia, conservationists have been working to preserve the wolf’s existing habitat, and in China, a number of large-scale initiatives have been implemented to protect the panda's main source of food, bamboo. The number of pandas has since increased and the species has moved from endangered to vulnerable.

Researchers say they hope their alarming predictions will “foster increased realization on the urgency and scale of the conservation efforts needed to safeguard the future of mammalian diversity.”

According to the IUCN, more than 32,000 are currently threatened with extinction. 

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