Extinction of species is 35 times faster since humans appeared | Science

In a book on the future of artificial intelligence, MIT professor Max Teckmark proposes an absurd and terrifying scenario: If we can’t accurately transmit our intentions, machines may follow their own. Turns all the atoms in the universe, including our own bodies, into metal clips. Criticized for its extravagance of purpose, the machine mind could be forgiven because it was trained by observing its creators. In recent decades, human intelligence has achieved an unprecedented expansion of species through the use of intelligence, with terrifying homogenization efficiency, making other species for food, sustaining more humans, and creating happier lives. This species, whose ancestors had critical moments, numbered more than a thousand individuals, representing 36% of all existing mammals. And 60% of animals, like cows, are raised to feed people, and only 4% are wild animals.

Despite humanity’s impact on terrestrial ecosystems, only We assume 0.01% of the planet’s biomass. However, humans continue to advance, reducing space for other animals and becoming increasingly alone. This sixth mass extinction, after others caused by meteors that wiped out the dinosaurs or extreme geological processes, was the first to be caused by an animal. And the impact is not limited to isolated species. According to an article Published in the magazine today PNAS, entire branches of the evolutionary tree are decomposed. Animals like the Tasmanian tiger or the Yangtze dolphin are the last of their kind, a concept that unites many related species.

The work, led by researcher Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, used a database of 34,600 species of 5,400 species of vertebrates from the past 500 years. International Union for Conservation of Nature. During that time, 73 species went extinct 35 times faster than expected if they had continued at the rate they had for the previous 65 million years. Without human influence, it would have taken 18,000 years for many species to disappear. According to the authors, at least one-third of known vertebrates are losing populations and increasingly cornered in smaller ecosystems. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 10 million elephants. Today there are less than half a million and they have disappeared from many of the countries where they lived until recently.

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The loss of an entire species can affect the functioning of an entire ecosystem. The homogenization that humans impose on their environment destroys the balance that is beneficial to our existence and alters the course of evolution. “In the eastern United States, large predators, bears, cougars, wolves, have disappeared, and white-tailed deer have increased exponentially, and so have mice. Deer and mice are hosts of ticks, which transmit Lyme disease, a very serious disease. It leads to millions of cases a year in the United States, ” exemplifies Gerardo Ceballos. On a less practical note, Paul Ehrlich, a professor at Stanford University and co-author of the study, says, “We’re losing the only living companions we know in the entire universe.

Biodiversity loss and overexploitation of wild space facilitate the spread of diseases between animals and humans, as happened with Covid, but it also destroys resources that could be used to improve human health. One of the endangered species is the gastropod frogs (Rheopatrachus), who lived in the tropical forests of Queensland, Australia. These animals had a peculiar reproductive system. Females swallow the fertilized eggs and turn their abdomens into oviducts, where tadpoles develop. Because frogs had to shut down stomach acid secretion to protect their young, they were an interesting research model for diseases like gastric reflux and related cancers, but none on Earth. Animals like these, though in small numbers, can play an important role in maintaining ecological balance.

Ceballos says his data is a call to action, adding, “If we don’t act at the necessary level, civilization will collapse. Humans aren’t going to die out, but we’re going to have these situations from apocalyptic movies where only the strongest survive,” he adds. In the past, after every major extinction, sometimes Having wiped out more than 70% of life on Earth, the tree of life was rebuilt with the slow appearance of new species. “But it took 15 or 20 million years, and humanity cannot wait that long,” warns Cephalos.

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To avoid or mitigate the decline, the authors call for unprecedented investment, with a special focus on protecting tropical forests, which are home to the greatest biodiversity. “It will cost $400 billion, which is a significant amount, but if we continue as we have been, there will be a much more widespread collapse than we’re seeing,” warns Ceballos. Studies such as the one published today, however, graduate from understanding the problem PNAS Given the dimension of the ecological challenge facing humanity, the only known intelligent species in the universe is close to suffocating in its own capacity to survive and reproduce.

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