What's up with Extinction? Well, it's because we're causing it and the next generation are going to be Peeved
- 23 Oct 06, 01:45 PM
Palaeontologists say that one species evolves per million species per million years - And conversely, one species goes extinct for every million species about once every million years. So it cancels and life on Earth moves on. Ecologists specialising in extinction rates, when all human activity is added up, are finding that the rate of extinction today is 100X that, probably 1000X and in the future is likely to be about 10,000X. By the end of 2100 50% of life on Earth might have vanished: that's plants, especially flowering plants, insects, birds, amphibians, mammals - groups that we know about. Little is known about the "little things that run the world" - no one knows how many bacteria, mini beasts, fungi etc might have popped it. All of this will take millions of years to evolve again (assuming we weren't on Earth). Not good.
For our first show we have just cut a story about Sifaka's. These are one of the species of Lemur that live on Madagascar. Jody went out with Gabrielle tro get this and other stories and came back with the extraordinary tale that the teeth of the old females are being worn down. Madgascar isn't a place where there's a global warming signal on land...or so they think. Lemur expert Pat Wright - who lives on site with the Lemurs - says the rain fall pattern has changed. They are getting dry spells when the females with a baby in toe desperately need the water and nourishment from succulent leaves. The upshot is they are swallowing the dry leaves whole, grinding their teeth down trying to chew them up - And their babies are perishing from dehydration and malnutrition. Pat says 20% of the lemurs are effected. A nasty way in which gloabl warming is indirectly driving a lemur species to bite the dust.
Extinction matters because we will lose the benefits that a diverse living world provides. Lemurs have a role in a tropical forest. They move tree fruits around and are part of the maintenance of a complex tropical rainforest. The ancientness of jungles in turn allows a glittering variety of life to evolve. The myriad of plants and animals pop up with cures for cancer, new generation anti-biotics and a wealth of other medicines. The forests stabilise the ground allowing indigenous communities to live sustainably. The forests also have bigger roles in gas exchange with the atmosphere.
In the oceans new medicines are being generated from the chemical defences of deep sea sponges. Coral reefs harbour many secrets valuable to us - we can't even guess what might be discovered in the future.
And there is building evidence that the aesthetic of the living world is fundamental to our well being. We are healthier and happier if we have some connection with the natural world. I could put it even more strongly...Well being, good health and happiness make you look younger. The one thing, according to a recent study, that can be correlated to longevity is how young you look for your age. So there you are, you could argue that biodiversity is linked to how long you will live.
And of course many are writing about the need to re-connect with the natural world as part of the solution to global warming.
Our activity is predicted to drive species extinctions at 10,000 x above base rate. Ed Wilson told us ["......if we don't do something to reverse this trend, future generations to say the least will be a little peeved"]
Said with a rye southern accent and a knowing twinkle in his eye, Ed knew this was the understatement of the century.