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View Diary: The Hollow Scene of Mass Extinction (28 comments)

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  •  This Mass Extinction is Little Different (5+ / 0-)

    From those which have gone before. Sure, a substantial percentage of extant species will go the way of the Wooly Mammoth, but that will open up ecological niches for new species to evolve into. Kinda hard on the ones being evicted, like elephants and humans, but rest assured something will fill those vacant niches.

    Just wait 250,000 years...

    Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

    by The Baculum King on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 11:28:07 AM PST

    •  Yes, this time the ones being evicted are us (3+ / 0-)

      quite likely our culture will certainly vanish and possibly our entire species.

      The planet itself will be fine. We aren't even a cancer on the planet. More like a head cold. After a brief (for a planet) fever everything will be fine. What's a quarter million years for a planet? Nothing. As you say, species will evolve, niches will be filled.

      I'm thinking octopus. They're smart as hell, very adaptable, and their habitat won't be nearly as affected by climate change as the land. Yet the undersea world will change enough that there will be some evolutionary pressure that wasn't there before.

      Oh! Hey, welcome back. You were missed.

    •  At issue is such a huge porton of them being open (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WarrenS, The Baculum King

      That life never quite bounces back.

      The qualitative difference is the pace of the transformation of the biome at human hands. And the pace is picking up. A lot.

      Doing a quick count of large vertebrates on Wiki's timeline of extinctions ... treat this as a sample not a comprehensive list (it's not), we get the following:

      Starting in 10,000 BC...

      9000 BC....12 extinctions
      8000 BC....05
      7000 BC....14
      6000 BC....05
      5000 BC....03
      4000 BC....04
      3000 BC....01
      2000 BC....05
      1000 BC....05
      1000 AD....06
      2000 AD....60

      OK, so the last thousand years has been an off millennium. Let's unpack it a bit more


      Ahem. A bit more than that


      The uptick starts with the Age of Exploration, the formation of global ocean trade networks, overseas empires and really gets in gear with the Industrial Revolution and is flooring the gas once mechanization of agriculture goes global and standards of living - for humans - goes up worldwide.

      More of us = less of them.

      I also looked at 77 large vertebrates that are listed as critically endangered...and I skipped a LOT of the line items on the IUCN Critically Endangered Species Red List.

      Thing is, that's hardly a drop in the bucket. I just spend, oh, an hour tallying up the count by type and came up with the following:

      There are two species of coelecanth (lobe finned fishes), relics from 400 million years ago. One of them is on the vigil list. They did fine... then we showed up. They're pretty much done for. Yay, Humanity...

      Nine of the 120 known jawless fish are critically endangered. Sorry, the lampreys in the Great Lakes aren't among them, but at a 7.5%  per century die-off rate (my SWAG) 90% of this order will be gone by 5000 AD.  Lampreys, too, most likely.

      Amphibians are the first big group of vertebrates at risk of being wiped out.  484 out of roughly 7,000 species. 6.9% depletion. They won't last much longer than the jawless fish.

      Brace yourself: 261 out of 5,702 mammals are critically endangered. At that pace, Mammals will be 90% obliterated by 7000AD. Maybe humans are in the surviving 10%, maybe not.

      Cartilaginous fishes (Sharks, skates and rays) fare a bit better, with only 25 out of 1000 species on biological death row. They make it to 11,000 AD. Go fins.

      Next up, birds. 192 from 10,000 at dire risk. 14,000 AD target.

      Reptiles: 109 out of 9,350 species tagged to die off in this century. At that pace, they're around to 22,000 AD.

      Boned fish, the survivors. 293 of 31,000 known species at risk. They can ride out the storm to 27,000 AD. Polaris will be the North Star again by then.

      All of these are straight-line games, just to reflect the relative risk exposure to mass extinction effects by type of vertebrate.

      Anything could change. The rate of collapse, the focus of distress could pivot to the seas and wipe out the fish first not last, a reversal of fortune could ensue. The primary driver of said mass extinction (us) could either change for the better or be (self) deported from the equation.

      But it drives home that the future is not necessarily a mammal-dominated one... and the dominance of mammals might be coming to an end very, very soon.

      Consider what type of critters we like to hunt most: warm-blooded ones.

      On that point, feathers are going out of style as fast as fur.


      •  It's Not Primarily Hunting That's Killing Species (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cskendrick, lineatus

        With the exception of rhinos killed to keep Asian penises hard, hunting is a relatively minor threat to most species, and regulated hunting none. It's habitat loss, recently through human pre-emption of the habitat, in the future the basic fact that the former habitat will no longer exist.

        Species like the giant panda have been doomed to be nothing more than curiousities by Nature, a bear that eats only bamboo?? I don't know if that was an experiment gone awry or a joke from the start, but there was obviously a wrong turn on the evolutionary path somewhere.

        The problem many species face is a total loss of a habitat that will sustain viable populations, and humans are likely aboard that boat with them; in our case our "habitat" requires large-scale agriculture, which is on it's last legs. The single most critical thing for that, and the one that made it possible to start with at the end of the Pleistocene , is a stable, predictable growing season. Before about 12,000 years ago, and again about the 2040-2060 time frame, agriculture wasn't/won't be possible simply because there wasn't/won't be a sufficiently long frost-and-drought-free period consistently available to make the planting and harvesting of consecutive crops possible. Without large-scale agriculture there is no civilization.

        But on the bright side, I don't expect this one to rival the end of the Permian, when something like 70% of land animals disappeared. And just think of all the wonderful shit that will get the chance to step up and become a major part of the biosphere with our disappearance. It could be like the Cambrian Explosion II !

        Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

        by The Baculum King on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 05:46:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I wrote something a while back (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Baculum King

          about how much time the Earth would have to rebound from a modern-day extinction event, as a function of the gradual heating up of the Sun over time as helium accumulates in the stellar core, and the Sun has to run hotter to fuse hydrogen.

          Answer: Not a lot more time. It might be on the order of 200 million years before, without diligent gardening on our part or that of successor beings, the Earth becomes too hot to have liquid water.

          •  But 200,000,000 Years is a LONG Time (0+ / 0-)

            Look where we were 5% of that, no outside observer could have looked at the suite of available primates and predicted Shakespeare, or Pink Floyd, or Charlize Theron...

            Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

            by The Baculum King on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 06:16:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The frequency is a wee bit slower than that (0+ / 0-)

              Unless trilobites were gettin' funky...

              •  That's the Beauty of the System (0+ / 0-)

                There's no way to know which species/families will make it across a mass extinction with the biological potential to exploit the new reality on the other side without knowing what that reality will be, but something always does.

                You can eliminate some contenders, of course, like elephants, which are really relics of the Late Pleistocene anyway, and primates have largely become too specialized (probably) within various niches to get another whack at it, but who can say where cetaceans or octopi will be sitting 5 million years after we're gone?

                Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

                by The Baculum King on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 06:25:20 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Except cetaceans are far more specialized (0+ / 0-)

                  They've been back in the seas for (ok, might be off here) about 30 million years.

                  Point taken on role of overspecialization. New World monkeys are superspecialized for arboreal life and are more at risk that their distant Old World kindred.

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