Earth’s sixth mass extinction is underway, scientists warn

12 July 2017 - 08:51 By AFP
A study has found that the loss of biodiversity has recently accelerated. File photo
A study has found that the loss of biodiversity has recently accelerated. File photo
Image: SUPPLIED

The sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is unfolding more quickly than feared, and amounts to a "biological annihilation" of the planet's wildlife, scientists have warned.

More than 30% of animals with a backbone - fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals - are declining in range and population, according to the first global analysis of these trends.

"This is the case of a biological annihilation occurring globally," said Stanford professor Rodolfo Dirzo, co-author of a study published in the journal PNAS.

Mammals have lost at least a third of their original habitat, the researchers found.

Forty percent of those mammals - among them rhinos, orangutans, gorillas and many big cats - are surviving on 20% or less of the land they once roamed.

The loss of biodiversity has recently accelerated, the study found.

"Several species of mammals that were relatively safe one or two decades ago are now endangered," including cheetahs, lions and giraffes, it said.

Globally, the mass die-off - the sixth in the last half-billion years - is the worst since three-quarters of life on earth, including the non-avian dinosaurs, were wiped out 66 million years ago by a giant meteor impact. 

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