How many species are we losing?

Well... this is the million dollar question.

And one that’s very hard to answer.
Firstly, we don’t know exactly what’s out there.

It’s a big complex world and we discover new species to science all the time.

"Scientists were startled in 1980 by the discovery of a tremendous diversity of insects in tropical forests. In one study of just 19 trees in Panama, 80% of the 1,200 beetle species discovered were previously unknown to science... Surprisingly, scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than how many species there are on Earth." WRI

So, if we don’t know how much there is to begin with, we don’t know exactly how much we’re losing.

But we do have lots of facts and figures that seem to indicate that the news isn’t good.
 / ©: MAR-ECO / Uwe Piatkowski
Unidentified fish
© MAR-ECO / Uwe Piatkowski
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If there are: - 100,000,000 different species on Earth - and the Extinction rate just is 0.01% / year - then 10,000 species go extinct ever year
© WWF
Just to illustrate the degree of biodiversity loss we're facing, let’s take you through one scientific analysis...
  • The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.*
  • These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year.
  • If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true - i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet** -  then that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year.
  • But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true - that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet - then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.
*Experts actually call this natural extinction rate the background extinction rate. This simply means the rate of species extinctions that would occur if we humans were not around.

** Between 1.4 and 1.8 million species have already been scientifically identified. 





Unlike the mass extinction events of geological history, the current extinction challenge is one for which a single species - ours - appears to be almost wholly responsible.



This is often referred to as the 6th extinction crisis, after the 5 known extinction waves in geological history.

So without arguing about who’s right or wrong.

Or what the exact numbers are.

There can be little debate that there is, in fact, a very serious biodiversity crisis.
 / ©: iStockPhoto / iScream Creative
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a meter tall, weighing about 20 kilograms (44 lb), living on fruit and nesting on the ground.
© iStockPhoto / iScream Creative
 / ©: Bonggi Ibarrando
Due to the growing illegal trade of the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, the species – endemic to eastern Indonesia – is close to extinction.
© Bonggi Ibarrando
 / ©: Charles te Mechelen
A photo of a young but dead Javan Rhinoceros in Ujung Kulon, Indonesia. Once the most widespread of Asian rhinoceroses, the Javan Rhinoceros ranged from the islands of Indonesia, throughout Southeast Asia, and into India and China. The species is now critically endangered, with only two known populations in the wild, and none in zoos. It is possibly the rarest large mammal on earth.
© Charles te Mechelen

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