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Heading Towards The ‘Sixth’

Putting an end to all speculation, the Sixth Mass Extinction has already begun on the Earth. A study, published in Biological Reviews – a journal covering categories related to Agricultural and Biological Sciences – on January 17 (2022), has stated that after the Cretaceous Era (a geological period that lasted from about 145 to 66 million years ago), the sixth phase of mass extinction of life began nearly 700 years ago (in AD 1500). As per the study, between 7.5% and 13% of the world’s two million known animals and plants have already become extinct. Compared to mammals, birds, and amphibians; invertebrates have become extinct at a faster pace.

According to the study, the fifth and last mass extinction had taken place 66 million years ago, as the period is popularly known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary Age. During that period of time, many prehistoric plants and animals, including dinosaurs, had become extinct. Researchers are of the opinion that it was the fastest phase of mass extinction, as it lasted only 2.5 million years.

Geologic time scale

The Study Paper has further claimed that the Red List, prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the extinction of animals and plants, failed to portray a clear picture of the sixth mass extinction, stating that the list stressed mainly on mammals, birds, and amphibians; and ignored the invertebrates. According to the IUCN, only 40,000 species are on the verge of extinction. Among them, 41% are amphibians, 26% are mammals, 13% birds, 37% sharks, and 21% are reptiles.

Researchers believe that the IUCN has made a mistake by excluding invertebrates in its Red List of endangered and threatened animals. Otherwise, the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity has become extinct over the last 700 years. Among them, the invertebrates are much larger in number. Most importantly, the invertebrates cover a large part of the Earth’s biodiversity, as far as numbers and quantities of species are concerned.

As per the IUCN Red List, many species of mammals and birds have become extinct in the last 700 years (since the 1500s), and the figure is 1.5% of total lives on the Earth. The figure is much higher (7.5-13%), if invertebrates are included, claimed researchers. It proves that the Sixth Mass Extinction started at least seven centuries ago.

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