National Geographic

Paying The Extinction Debt: My New Column for the New York Times

The extinction crisis we’re experiencing today is hard to get our arms around. It can be tough even to just know when a species really has become extinct, and not just hiding from people. But scientists also want to know how species become extinct. Once we disturb a place, how long do we have to wait before the species there start to disappear? If we can understand the path towards extinction, we may be better able to stop the stampede. For this week’s “Matter” column in the New York Times, I  look at a rare opportunity to test out ideas of “extinction debt,” created by a dam in Thailand. It turns out that species can vanish from fragmented forests with startling speed. Check it out.

There are 2 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Arteyhviah
    September 28, 2013

    Seemingly ‘Mankind’ will understand the extinction phenomenon much better when the realization becomes focused in our minds that we are a species and victims too…

  2. Robert Martin
    October 9, 2013

    Of course, humans are the only cause of animals and plants becoming extinct. No other factors are involved at all. Do you realize that 99.9999% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct? Those humans in the Proterozoic must have been incredibly dangerous!

    Robert Martin, P.G.

    [CZ: The fossil record shows that extinctions over geological time have occurred at a relatively steady background rate. The current rate is far above background level. Of course, there have been a few bouts of mass extinctions in the past, as well. But these typically have been caused by rare events, such as a meteorite impact or an extraordinary period of volcanic eruptions. There is a rare event occurring now: humans are converting wild land at a rapid rate, while also hunting species and altering the climate. There is no other cause of the current *elevated* extinction rates that scientists have identified.]

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