I read this article today by Dave Thier. It made me take pause.
Written by Dave Thier
Over the past 4.5 billion years, planet Earth has seen some rough times.
There have been five major mass extinctions — the worst one claimed up to 96 percent of marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life — but the one most present in modern memory is the Cretaceous-Tertiary event, when a meteor impact probably claimed the dinosaurs.
Many scientists agree that there’s also one going on right now.
Minneapolis Star Tribune / MCT
Cornell University researchers announced recently that a fatal fish virus known as VHS has spread into Lake Superior and now exists in all the Great Lakes.
Cornell University researchers recently announced that a fatal fish virus known as VHS has spread into Lake Superior and now exists in all the Great Lakes. Authorities are taking measures to raise public awareness and prevent a widespread outbreak, but the virus is another indication of the dangers from the ongoing Holocene extinction, the name given to the current die-off.
Here are a few prominent types of species that have been threatened in recent years:
Bees: Since 2006, beekeepers have been reporting widespread instances of colony collapse disorder, in which the worker bees abruptly disappear from a colony.
Causes of colony collapse disorder are nebulous at best, and most beekeepers have their own pet theories about what is making the bees disappear. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating new pathogens and parasites that could be causing the collapses, and some believe that agricultural pesticides are the most compelling explanation.
The implications of bee extinction are dire. Many plants and agricultural crops worldwide are completely reliant on bees for pollination and would need to revert thousands, or millions, of years of evolution to reproduce without them.
Bats: White nose syndrome, in which cave-dwelling bats are found dead with a ring of white fungal growth around their noses, was first identified in a Schoharie County, N.Y., cave in 2006. Since then, it has spread to caves across the Northeast.
The caustic fungus, Geomyces destructans, is likely just a symptom of something else that is killing bats while they sleep. Populations of some Northeastern bat species, which are crucial to controlling insect populations, have declined by more than 90 percent.
The disease may be spreading too. A bat dead from white nose syndrome was found in a cave in France in March 2009. To slow transmission, cavers are advised to stay out of caves in affected states.
Amphibians: According to a 2008 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one-third to one-half of all amphibian species are on the edge of extinction, threatened by a perfect storm of diseases, habitat loss, pesticides and climate change.
Scientists are unclear whether this is a very recent phenomenon or the continuation of a trend thousands of years old. But human activity certainly seems involved in the current rash of amphibian death. Amphibians survived the last mass extinction, but they seem to be among the first on the chopping block in this one.
April 10 will mark the second “Save the Frogs Day,” an annual event.
Predatory fish: Top-level predators on land and in water are some of the species most affected by habitat loss, but the situation in the ocean looks especially dire. Overfishing, pollution and a shifting food supply are severely threatening such species as marlin, tuna and swordfish. Researchers believe that up to 90 percent of large predatory fish have disappeared from the oceans since the 1950s.
Steps are being taken to control overfishing, but the decline of ocean species may prove especially difficult to stanch. More than just the big fish are in danger. In 2006, CBS reported that a team of researchers predicted the oceans would be devoid of fish by 2048.
Humans: Between the infectious-disease scare of the week, the persistent threat of nuclear weapons and alarming food-supply questions, it can be easy to believe we’re on our way to being little more than an unusual blip in the history of planetary life.