Nations must keep expanding conservation efforts to avoid a biodiversity crisis

December 15, 2014 • Daily Email Recap

Protect and serve

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There are 22,413 species deemed at risk of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). If some ambitious person tried to read out their names – without any breaks for food or water – it would take at least half a day. But that would be just the start. The IUCN has assessed the status of only 76,199 of the 1.7 million species of animals, plants, fungi and protists on Earth that have been described by scientists. And some suggest that at least five times more species still wait to be discovered. Many of these are also threatened, and it would take months to read out all of their names. (Except that they do not, of course, have names.)

There remain vast gaps in knowledge about the planet’s biodiversity – and the precarious state of life. Every day, animals and plants go extinct. Nobody knows exactly how many, but estimates range from 500 to 36,000 extinctions per year. A News Feature on page 158 draws together some of the best studies of biodiversity and tries to make such vast numbers fathomable.

Before human populations swelled to the point at which we could denude whole forests and wipe out entire animal populations, extinction rates were at least ten times lower.

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