Frog Deaths Are A Harbinger of "Sixth Mass Extinction" on Earth

Illustration for article titled Frog Deaths Are A Harbinger of Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth

Frogs and other amphibians lived through several mass extinctions on Earth over the past 250 million years, surviving the dinosaur wipeout and the most recent Ice Age. But now, say scientists this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, all that is changing. Amphibians are going extinct in such huge numbers that we've entered nothing short of a new mass extinction event. It's the sixth such event in known Earth history.

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At least one-third of amphibian species are threatened with extinction right now, and even non-threatened species are suffering catastrophic declines in population. Most likely, the causes are global warming and the shrinking habitats where amphibians live.

But what merits calling this a "mass extinction"? The researchers explain in a release from UC Berkeley:

"There's no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now," said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley . . . New species arise and old species die off all the time, but sometimes the extinction numbers far outweigh the emergence of new species. Extreme cases of this are called mass extinction events, and there have been only five in our planet's history, until now.

The sixth mass extinction event, which Wake and others argue is happening currently, is different from the past events. "My feeling is that behind all this lies the heavy hand of Homo sapiens," Wake said.

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It's hard to say exactly when the mass extinction of amphibians began. It could have been 10,000 years ago, when humans arrived in the Americas and began changing the local environment by hunting. Or it could have been with the dawning of the industrial area, with its chemical pollutants destroying watery environments where frogs live. No matter when the extinction began, Wake and his colleagues believe that it has sped up considerably over the past few decades and shows no sign of slowing down.

Dying Frogs a Sign of Biodiversity Crisis [UC Berkeley]

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DISCUSSION

Corpore Metal

@russdanger: I argue that, occasionally, we can be collectively clever too. It's rare but it happens.

My point with that post was that there has to some way between the two positions I cited—between "We are hopelessly doomed!" and "There's nothing wrong at all. Eat, drink and be merry."

My politics, in general, are left of center but, as I was growing up, there was always this anti-science, anti-technology, eco-romantic current on the left that I've never agreed with.

On the other side of the political spectrum, as I was growing up in 70s and 80s (Especially as I was reading editorial columns in Analog magazine.), there was this weird, minarchistic, market worshipping, techno-ra-ra crowd that I never agreed with either.

I think both views are actually rather old-fashioned now belonging to the Cold War and the last century.

I'm green, deeply so in my personal life, but I don't think nuclear power is inherently evil. That's only one of many views I have that don't sit neatly in either of the two camps I describe above.