Tag Archives | Extinction

In 1883, Did Earth Narrowly Miss Comet That Would Have Destroyed All Life?

Schwassmann-Wachmann 3“If they had collided with Earth we would have had 3275 Tunguska events in two days, probably an extinction event.”

The biggest event which never happened and no one knows about? Offering a novel reinterpretation of some forgotten historical data, several Mexican researchers say a billion-ton comet may have passed a few hundred miles from Earth in 1883. Via Technology Review:

On 12th and 13th August 1883, an astronomer at a small observatory in Zacatecas in Mexico made an extraordinary observation. José Bonilla counted some 450 objects, each surrounded by a kind of mist, passing across the face of the Sun.

Bonilla published his account of this event in a French journal called L’Astronomie in 1886. Today, Hector Manterola at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, and a couple of pals, think that Bonilla must have been seeing fragments of a comet that had recently broken up.

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Seedbank Vaults In Case Of Mass Extinction

Nordic Genetic Resource Center Seed Vials, Svalbard Global SeedVia Wired, Dornith Doherty’s photographs offer a glimpse inside several of humanity’s vital seed-saving facilities, where samples of our planet’s flora are stored and protected in case of future mass extinction (be it due to climate change, nuclear war, astroid impact, or disease epidemic). Perhaps most stark is the Svalbard “Doomsday” Seed Vault, located on an island near the North Pole. One of these tiny outposts could someday be the savior of life on Earth:

Dornith Doherty’s documentary images of seed-saving facilities capture the logistics — and existential anxiety — behind the elaborate steps now in place to preserve the world’s crop diversity.

Once a traditional, year-to year practice by smallholding farmers to develop sturdy varietals, this simple act of putting seed aside has more and more become the concern of international affairs and corporate policy.

“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity,” says Doherty.

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Food Ark: Will Seed Banks Save Our Sources of Food?

“Experts estimate that we have lost more than half of the world’s food varieties over the past century”. Charles Siebert writes in National Geographic:

Svalbard Vault Mountain (Cutaway). Illustration: Global Crop Diversity Trust

Svalbard Vault Mountain (Cutaway). Illustration: Global Crop Diversity Trust

A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply — but we must take steps to save them.

Six miles outside the town of Decorah, Iowa, an 890-acre stretch of rolling fields and woods called Heritage Farm is letting its crops go to seed. It seems counterintuitive, but then everything about this farm stands in stark contrast to the surrounding acres of neatly rowed corn and soybean fields that typify modern agriculture. Heritage Farm is devoted to collecting rather than growing seeds.

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Is Earth Due For Its Sixth Mass Extinction?

FishShould we all be on the endangered species list? Science Daily reports:

With the steep decline in populations of many animal species, from frogs and fish to tigers, some scientists have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction like those that occurred only five times before during the past 540 million years.

Each of these ‘Big Five’ saw three-quarters or more of all animal species go extinct.

In a study to be published in the March 3 issue of the journal Nature, University of California, Berkeley, paleobiologists assess where mammals and other species stand today in terms of possible extinction, compared with the past 540 million years, and they find cause for hope as well as alarm.

“If you look only at the critically endangered mammals — those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations — and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm,” said principal author Anthony D.

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Oysters ‘Functionally Extinct’ Worldwide

Yet another sign that we’re entering end-times territory as oysters are declared “functionally extinct.” From AFP via Yahoo News:

A survey of oyster habitats around the world has found that the succulent mollusks are disappearing fast and 85 percent of their reefs have been lost due to disease and over-harvesting.

Oysters in a claire at Belon

Most of the remaining wild oysters in the world, or about 75 percent, can be found in five locations in North America, said the study published in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

An international team of researchers led by Michael Beck of the Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Cruz, examined the condition of native oyster reefs in 40 ecoregions, including 144 bays.

“Oyster reefs are at less than 10 percent of their prior abundance in most bays (70 percent) and ecoregions (63 percent),” said the study.

“They are functionally extinct — in that they lack any significant ecosystem role and remain at less than one percent of prior abundances in many bays (37 percent) and ecoregions (28 percent) — particularly in North America, Australia and Europe.”

By averaging the loss among all regions, the researchers came up with an estimate that 85 percent of oyster reef ecosystems have been lost, but said that figure was likely low because some areas lacked historical records for comparison…

[continues at AFP via Yahoo News]

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Latest Mass Animal Death: Crickets

millions-of-crickets-dying-in-zoospet-stores-arou-31727-1294845607-2I’m not sure how many signs of the apocalypse we’ve now experienced this season, but it’s a high tally. In the latest disturbing mass wildlife die-off, MSNBC reports that a paralyzing virus is killing crickets by the million:

A virus has killed millions of crickets raised to feed pet reptiles and those kept in zoos. The cricket paralysis virus has disrupted supplies to pet shops across North America as a handful of operators have seen millions of their insects killed.

Some operations have gone bankrupt and others have closed indefinitely until they can rid their facilities of the virus.

Cricket farms started in the 1940s as a source of fish bait, but the bulk of sales now are to pet supply companies, reptile owners and zoos, although people also eat some. Most U.S. farms are in the South, but suppliers from Pennsylvania to California also raise crickets.

The virus had swept through European cricket farms in 2002.

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22% of Plants Facing Extinction

Author: Ryan Kitko (CC)

Author: Ryan Kitko (CC)

The Earth could lose more than one fifth of all known plants — forever! Story from the Guardian:

One in five of the world’s plant species – the basis of all life on earth – are at risk of extinction, according to a landmark study published today.

At first glance, the 20% figure looks far better than the previous official estimate of almost three-quarters, but the announcement is being greeted with deep concern.

The previous estimate that 70% of plants were either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable was based on what scientists universally acknowledged were studies heavily biased towards species already thought to be under threat.

Today the first ever comprehensive assessment of plants, from giant tropical rainforests to the rarest of delicate orchids, concludes the real figure is at least 22%. It could well be higher because hundreds of species being discovered by scientists each year are likely to be in the “at risk” category.

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Scientist: Human Race May Die Out Within 100 Years

Scary stuff, reported in New Scientist:

To say Frank Fenner is no fool is without doubt an understatement. He is an accomplished scientist, and that rarity in modern science, a polymath. As a virologist he helped lead the eradication of smallpox, while as a human ecologist he set up the respected Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University.

So how worried should we be that Fenner told an Australian newspaper that humanity will be extinct within a century because of our failure to deal with global warming?

All is not necessarily lost, at least according to Stephen Boyden, Fenner’s colleague at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, who told the same paper there is still time to prevent our extinction. The problem, he says, is to do it we will need to pull off “revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability”. Still hardly an optimistic view.

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70,000 Years Ago, An Extinction Event May Have Left Only 2,000 Humans on the Planet

Extinction EventWow, this is a fascinating article from Ed Grabianowski on io9.com: a great catalog of the extinction events we believe happened throughout all of human history. Ed Grabianowski writes:

There is one near-extinction event that is fairly well-known, although it remains controversial. Roughly 70,000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years, an enormous eruption occurred in what is now Sumatra, leaving behind Lake Toba. The eruption coincides with a population bottleneck that is often cited as the reason for the relatively low genetic diversity across Homo sapiens sapiens. Research suggests as few as 2,000 humans were left alive by the eruption and its aftereffects.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found another population bottleneck much farther back in human history. Genetic studies found that 1.2 million years ago there were as few as 55,000 members of genus Homo, including pre-human hominids like Homo erectus and Homo ergaster.

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Gone But Not Forgotten: Future Implications of Human Killed-Off Species

GVmammothsSPLVia the Economist:

Between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago roughly half of the earth’s larger mammals (species that were sheep-sized or bigger) went extinct. The distribution of these extinctions in time and space suggests strongly that humans were responsible.

Large mammals in Africa, which had evolved alongside humans for millions of years, were for the most part spared. The species which died out elsewhere — 178 of them, possibly more — tended to do so at around the time that they first encountered modern humans coming forth out of Africa with pointy sticks, good throwing arms and large appetites.

Ecologists have shown that wiping out big animals is surprisingly easy, since big animals reproduce slowly, which means that a small increase in the rate at which predators pick them off can have a large effect on the population, especially if the predators prefer hunting juveniles. Hence the now widely accepted argument that humans come with original ecological sin built in.

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