A new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico reveals that human-driven mass extinction is not only eliminating individual species but also entire genera, resulting in a “mutilation of the tree of life.” The findings indicate that this loss of biodiversity has the potential for significant harm to human society.

Previous discussions on mass extinction have primarily focused on the extinction of individual species. However, this study highlights the alarming fact that entire genera are also disappearing. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines the extinction of genera, which are taxonomic categories higher than species.

The researchers found that 73 genera of terrestrial vertebrates have vanished since the year 1500 AD. Birds have been the most affected, followed by mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. The current rate of vertebrate genera extinction is 35 times higher than that of the past one million years, indicating a rapid acceleration due to human activities. In the absence of human influence, the Earth would likely have lost only two genera during that time. Instead, human actions have caused an increase in genus extinctions equivalent to what would have taken 18,000 years to accumulate.

The impact of genus extinctions is broad and more severe than species extinctions. When a species goes extinct, other species within the same genus typically fill its ecological niche. However, when an entire genus disappears, a significant void is created in the ecosystem that can take tens of millions of years to recover through the process of speciation.

The consequences of these extinctions are not limited to the loss of biodiversity. They can also have direct effects on human society. For example, the decline of certain predators due to genus extinctions can lead to an increase in disease-carrying species, such as mice transmitting Lyme disease to humans. Additionally, the loss of entire genera means a loss of valuable knowledge and potential resources for medical research.

The study emphasizes the urgent need to address the current crisis of mass extinction. It highlights the importance of preserving biodiversity not only for the sake of the planet and its species but also for the well-being and survival of humanity.

– Study: Gerardo Ceballos et al. (2023). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate genus losses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
– Stanford News. (2023). Study finds human-driven mass extinction is eliminating entire branches of the tree of life.