Big Question for 2012: What Animals Could Go Extinct?
(The Golden Toad was last seen on May 15, 1989, and is presumed to be extinct.)
The world's biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, according to the most recent Global Species Assessment and many other related studies. As a result, more extinctions are predicted for 2012.
While extinctions have been occurring on our planet since close to the beginning of life on Earth, we are now essentially living through an experiment with no predictable outcome. The prior five major mass extinctions, for the most part, happened over relatively long periods of geological time.
In contrast, it's believed that some 10,000 species have gone extinct in just the past 100 years, with the evolution of new species not keeping up with the losses. Human activities, such as habitat encroachment, hunting, pollution and more are largely to blame.
According to Conservation International…
At least 15 species have gone extinct over the past few decades. The real extinction figure is believed to be much higher, however, due to the conservative approach used in such listings;
Thousands of animal, plant and lichen species are now considered at risk of extinction;
One in three amphibians (32%) and almost half (42%) of turtles and tortoises are now known to be threatened with extinction, along with one in eight birds (12%) and one in four mammals (23%);
There are major gaps in our knowledge of threatened species, and many species-rich groups have been poorly assessed;
The numbers of threatened species are increasing across almost all major taxonomic groups;
Continental species extinctions have become as common as extinctions on islands, which are typically more ecologically fragile, and
Current extinction rates are at least one hundred to a thousand times higher than background, or "natural" rates.
Here are some species, including plants and insects, which are already considered to be extinct in the wild and could completely disappear in 2012:
Anaxyrus baxteri (Wyoming Toad)
Bromus bromoideus (Brome des Ardennes)
Clermontia peleana (Pele Clermontia)
Commidendrum rotundifolium (Bastard Gumwood)
Corvus hawaiiensis (Hawaiian Crow)
Cryosophila williamsii (Root-spine Palm)
Cyanea superba (Superb Cyanea)
Cyanea truncata (Punaluu Cyanea)
Cyprinodon alvarezi (Perrito De Potosi)
Cyprinodon longidorsalis (La Palma Pupfish)
Cyrtandra waiolani (Fuzzyflower Cyrtandra)
Elaphurus davidianus (Père David's Deer)
Encephalartos brevifoliolatus (Escarpment Cycad)
Encephalartos nubimontanus (Blue Cycad)
Encephalartos woodii (Wood's Cycad)
Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree)
Gallirallus owstoni (Guam Rail)
Kokia cookei (Molokai Koki`o)
Leptogryllus deceptor (Oahu Deceptor Bush Cricket)
Mammillaria glochidiata (Biznaguita)
Mangifera casturi (Kalimantan Mango)
Megupsilon aporus (Catarina Pupfish)
Mitu mitu (Alagoas Curassow)
Nectophrynoides asperginis (Kihansi Spray Toad)
Nilssonia nigricans (Black Soft-shell Turtle)
Oryx dammah (Scimitar-horned Oryx)
(Scimitar Oryx at Sydney Taronga Zoo; Wikimedia Commons Image)
Partula dentifera (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula faba (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula hebe (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula mirabilis (Moorean Viviparous Tree Snail)
Partula nodosa (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula rosea (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula suturalis (Moorean Viviparous Tree Snail)
Partula tohiveana (Moorean Viviparous Tree Snail)
Partula tristis (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Partula varia (Polynesian Tree Snail)
Skiffia francesae (Golden Skiffia)
Sophora toromiro (Toromiro)
Stenodus leucichthys (Beloribitsa)
Thermosphaeroma thermophilum (Socorro Isopod)
Trochetiopsis erythroxylon (Redwood)
Zenaida graysoni (Socorro Dove)
Also at risk are species listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. You can see the complete list here.
It can be a challenge for conservationists to target and try to save an individual species, beyond trying to put it in a zoo, save its genes for an animal gene bank, or initiate breeding programs in captivity. Another approach to staving off extinctions is to focus on biodiversity hotspots, which are identified as being among the most species-rich, at risk places on Earth.
Researchers are also still trying to undermine deadly diseases that are causing rapid population reductions to certain species. White Nose Syndrome, for example, is a horrific fungal disease that is killing many North American bats. Devil Facial Tumor Disease is yet another nightmarish illness that is killing off countless Tasmanian devils.
(A Tasmanian devil suffering from Devil Facial Tumor Disease; Credit: Image courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devil Program)
Either directly or indirectly, we are often the driver of such diseases and extinctions, so we can conversely represent hope for the rest of the species with which we share the planet. The future of so many other animals, plants and insects is in our hands. Some of these organisms could even hold cures for illnesses that threaten our own species.
Could 2012 represent the year that we finally turn the tide for the better in the present mass extinction? The data and predictions tell me no, but as primatologist Jane Goodall says, there is always "reason for hope."