Past extinction rates 'overestimated', but doom 'just around corner', says new study

A new study in Nature reports that early-1980s predictions that as many as half the species on Earth would be lost by 2000 were “overestimated.” Nevertheless, “… the next mass extinction may be upon us or just around the corner. There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, and we could be entering the sixth mass extinction,” say the study authors in their media release.

What is to be done? Researcher Stephen Hubbell said,

“… [the public should spend more time enjoying nature], especially if it’s going to be here today, gone tomorrow. If we don’t take steps to preserve animals and plants that we care about, they are going to be gone. “When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time doing non-macho things like collecting butterflies and turning over rocks. The only way we’re going to save nature is by making sure future generations experience nature. People who have never seen wild nature don’t miss it and don’t realize how impoverished their lives have become due to its loss. I worry about the loss of a conservation ethic among the public. Go to the tropics. Experience a rain forest — while you still can.”

Putting aside that past failed predictions don’t enhance confidence in new predictions, it’s difficult to take seriously people who speak in terms of “saving nature.” What does that mean? Is nature going extinct? Civil rights for plants and animals? Condemning poor countries and peoples to poverty?

Assuming that Hubbell and his ilk are sincerely concerned about endangered species, it would help their case if they just published the facts and left the drama at home.

5 thoughts on “Past extinction rates 'overestimated', but doom 'just around corner', says new study”

  1. The paper is a sham: it does not report extinction rates or the numbers of species that are threatened. Despite its posturing, it deals with a different issue. The paper is riddled with false statements. For instance:

    The paper states: “Estimates of extinction rates based on (the species-area) method are almost always much higher than those actually observed.” It is unequivocally false. One reference used to support this (Pimm and Askins) uses a species-area relationship to predict 4.5 bird extinctions following deforestation in Eastern North America and then notices that four species went extinct and one is threatened.

    There are dozens of other studies of many taxa around the world that find equally compelling agreements between predicted and observed extinctions. A small selection of them follows.

    So what does the paper model — and why does it poorly address the issue of extinctions? Imagine destruction that wipes out 95% of the habitat in an area metaphorically “overnight”. How many species have disappeared “the following morning”? The paper tells you. It is not many, just those wholly restricted to the 95% (and absent from the 5% where they would survive). The important question is …
    How many of additional species living lonely lives in their isolated patches (the 5%) would become extinct eventually because their population sizes are too small to be viable? A different species-area curve applies — the one for islands, which are isolated. It is a much larger number of extinctions, of course, and the one used in the studies mentioned above that find such compelling agreement between predicted against observed extinctions.
    By all means, feel free to share this.
    A response will be submitted to Nature shortly.

    Pimm, S. L. & Askins, R. A. Forest losses predict bird extinctions in eastern North America. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 92, 9343–9347 (1995).

    Brooks, T. M. et al. Habitat loss and extinction in the hotspots of biodiversity. Conserv. Biol. 16, 909–923 (2002).

    Grelle, C. E. de V., Fonseca, G. A. B., Fonseca, M. T. & Costa, L. P. The question of scale in threat analysis: a case study with Brazilian mammals. Animal Conserv. 2, 149–152 (1999).

    Brooks, T. & Balmford, A. Atlantic forest extinctions. Nature 380, 115 (1996).

    Cowlishaw, G. Predicting the pattern of decline of African primate diversity: an extinction debt from historical deforestation. Conserv. Biol. 13, 1183–1193 (1999).

    Brook, B. W., Sodhi, N. S. & Ng, P. K. L. Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Nature 424, 420–423 (2001)

    Brooks, T. M., S. L. Pimm, V. Kapos and C. Ravilious 1999. Threat from deforestation to montane and lowland birds and mammals in insular Southeast Asia. J. Anim. Ecol. 68: 1061-1078

    Brooks, T. M., Pimm, S. L., & Oyugi, J. O. Time lag between deforestation
    and bird extinction in tropical forest fragments. Conserv. Biol. 13, 1140-1150

    A full discussion of species area curves appears in

    Rosenzweig, M.L. Species diversity in space and time. (Cambridge Univ.
    Press, 1995)

  2. Not surprising.

    The wild estimates of mass extinctions (running in some cases to 100 or 1000 per DAY) were never even in the ballpark.

    This is simply another example of the Malthusians being wrong and grudgingly admitting it, while swearing that though they were wrong thusfar, their predictions will come true, as predicted, tomorrow.

    Carbonicus, Julian Simon, and other Cornucopians laugh and say “we told you so”. The Malthusians like the Ehrlichs, Lovelock, Lovins, Gore, Hansen, Holdren, etal shake their fists at the sky in denial.

    The world should learn something from this episode. It is instructive in the climate and other environmental debates.

  3. Just another green propaganda excuse to take down western wealth and freedom. Just look at the EU for crying out loud Eastern states are barely better off with the EU if at all and Western states definitely suffer from socialist central control. E-EU states are just used to take down W-EU states. It’s economic warfare from the globalist bankers, clear as day. They want you poor and domesticated then they want you dead and highly managed just like in 1984 and Brave New World.

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