The Reason for Animal and Plant Extinction
Our beautiful Earth is lush with a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is difficult to imagine that this world was filled with more animals and plants than now, but they have been eradicated from Earth, due to many reasons. This unfortunate extinction is only to continue for the next few years, with scientists predicting the nearest mass extinction to happen by 2050.
But why do these plants and animals get extinct? Do we as humans have a role to play in their extinction?
The answer is always YES.
While some causes of extinction are due to nature itself, most of them are related to human activities.
Reasons for extinction:
The most commonly known cause of extinction. 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were eradicated from the face of the earth, due to the impact of an asteroid collision in Mexico. Many more species have become extinct due to this collision, and scientists are always looking for signs of any such species. They are also on the lookout for future collisions, to hopefully prevent such a disaster again.
2. Loss of Habitat:
We have all built a temporary ecosystem for ourselves – our house, the society, the neighbours, the schools, and so on. We thrive because of the support we get from our ecosystem. When this ecosystem gets destroyed (through natural calamities like tsunamis or hurricanes), it becomes very difficult to survive and get back to thriving. Not all make it. This is the same case with animals and plants.
Human activities such as deforestation and urbanization have destroyed the natural habitats of many species (tigers, for example). Deforestation is the act of cutting down trees for wood and agriculture, whereas urbanization is the act of turning rural areas into cities. A whopping 36 million acres of natural forest have been destroyed due to deforestation. Both damage the habitats of flora and fauna, making it difficult for them to hunt, eat, and live.
3. Diminishing genetic diversity:
As habitats reduce, naturally the population of the species would also reduce. This would result in fewer mates to breed with, finally ending up with inbreeding. Inbreeding causes many health issues, resulting in early deaths (think of natural selection – only the fittest survive). This is why the African Cheetahs are dwindling in population.
With human beings invading the natural habitats of many species, there is a significant lack of food for these animals. Either we hunt down their prey – reducing the food they could get, or we damage their habitat to such an extent that the species that they feast on gets extinct.
Imagine if scientists find a way to completely get rid of mosquitoes. While this is good news for us humans, it is dangerous for frogs and bats that feed on these insects. Due to starvation, more and more frogs may die, which affects the whole food chain, resulting in a domino effect of extinction.
With no safe space to live, unable to find sufficient food, and genetic diseases due to inbreeding, it is not a surprise that a new disease can wipe out an entire species. Amphibians around the world are now facing a lethal disease called chytridiomycosis – a fungal infection that kills frogs, toads, and salamanders.
6. Introduction of new species:
Every habitat has its way of living and surviving. Bringing a new plant or animal into this environment could prove to be detrimental. A weed from Japan named kudzu was introduced into the American wildlife, and now is growing at a pace of 150,000 acres per year, pushing out the natural indigenous vegetation of the land.
Pollution has caused much marine wildlife to go extinct. The depletion of marine oxygen, the death of organisms due to plastic being lodged in intestines, the chemicals being poured into water, killing natural marine life, and the pollution of land resulting in the many florae being eradicated, are all examples of how pollution can cause extinction.
8. Human beings:
Not surprisingly, human beings are another cause of mass extinction. Mass hunting has caused many animals to disappear from the face of the Earth or has made them endangered species – like rhinos, and Amur leopards.
9. Climate change:
Global warming does not simply affect human beings, it affects Earth as a whole. When the heat is more than what an animal can handle, they die of dehydration or heatstroke. Melting ice caps is damaging the natural habitats of polar bears, endangering them for the future.
Also known as overharvesting of resources. Growing more cattle to make up for the demand for meat destroys land (needed for grazing), and the atmosphere (due to them producing more methane). Overharvesting crops can also destroy forests as land once overused for agriculture cannot be replenished.
Have plants been extinct?
Unfortunately for Earth, plants more than birds and mammals have been wiped off land since 1750 – approximately 571 species of plants. This number is not exact, as there may have been many more that have not been discovered before being extinct. Similar to the causes of animal extinction, human activities and natural calamities are the main reasons for plants to be wiped off.
Over 2,000 new types of plants have been discovered in the recent past, however, a significantly large number of plants are on the verge of extinction. And unlike animal extinction, these are more difficult to identify before it’s too late.
What happens each time a specie goes extinct?
Imagine pulling on a loose thread of yarn of a knitted sweater. What started as a small thread will end up unravelling the entire sweater, and in the end, you’ll be left with simply a tangled mess of yarn.
That’s exactly what happens when even the tiniest of organisms go extinct.
When one organism gets wiped off, it affects the next category of animals in the food chain, which ends up in starvation, and then gradual extinction.
In the case of plants, animals or birds eat fruit-bearing plants, the seeds of which end up in other places, due to which the plants will continue to grow. If such a bird or mammal goes extinct, it affects the growth of the said plant as well, endangering the plant species.
Species that have gone extinct from 2019-2022:
- Ivory-billed woodpecker
- Splendid Poison Frog
- Lake Lanao Freshwater Fish
- Smooth Handfish
- Bramble Cay Melomys
- Spix’s Macaw
Species that are dangerously close to extinction by 2050-2100
- Sea Turtles
- Polar Bears
- Tiger & Cheetah breeds
The 10 most endangered animals:
Endangered mostly due to human poaching, disease, habitat loss, and human wars. Additionally, they breed at a lower rate making it more difficult to recover their numbers.
Famously poached for their priceless horns. These horns are used in traditional medicines, and as home décor as a status symbol. The Javan Rhino is the closest to extinction, with only 46 to 66 of them left
3. Sea Turtles:
Another species poached for its shell, eggs, meat, and skin. Pollution also plays a role in destroying their habitat, along with urbanization and climate change.
One of the largest terrestrial mammals on earth, and one of the rarest. So rare are they, that they are nicknamed the Asian Unicorn.
5. North Atlantic Right Whale:
Popularly poached for their meat and their oil-rich fat, these gentle giants are one of the most endangered whales. Although they are currently protected, their recovery rate is very slow, as the females don’t breed very often.
6. Tooth-Billed Pigeon
Rare, elusive, and related to the extinct dodo bird, the tooth-billed pigeon suffers from extinction due to illegal hunting, deforestation, natural calamities, and predatory animals.
These are fish-eating crocodiles from India. They are hunted for their use in traditional medicines. Pollution, fishing nets, and habitat loss are other factors that contribute to their extinction.
One of the few animals that are nearing extinction, but not due to hunting or poaching. They are declining in numbers due to the introduction of predatory species like stoats and cats into their habitat. Kakapos tend to freeze in fear, to blend in with their surroundings, which does not help them much, as their predators hunt with scent.
9. Amur Leopard:
Amur leopards are poached for their fur and their bones. Habitat loss, climate change, and starvation are also contributing to their fast extinction. They are currently one of the most endangered large cats.
As of July 2019, there are only 9 of these left in the world. Illegal fishing and getting entangled in nets meant for other fishes are the main reasons for their declining numbers.
Animals that have been saved from extinction:
Stringent laws, intense conservation measures, and captive breeding (they would be slowly released into the wild later on) have all helped the following 10 species to escape from extinction. This goes on to say that there is hope for our endangered species, and maybe it’s not too late to save them.
- Sea Otter
- Peregrine Falcon
- Mallorcan Midwife Toad
- Fen Orchid
- Blue Whale
- Island Night Lizard
- Rodrigues Fruit Bat
- Fisher’s Estuarine Moth
- Pygmy Rwandan Water Lily
- Shortnose Sturgeon
But why should we care about extinction? Biodiversity is an important factor in making sure this Earth can sustain life. Affecting that means affecting life as a whole. The repercussions can and will be deadly. Read our detailed blog to know how extinction can affect human health.
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