Holocene Extinction

Ben Kuntz, Jake Lanning, Wyatt Sopher, and Owen True

Earth has been around for about 4.6 billion years allowing for the diversity of animals to flourish and also get wiped out. Over the course of Earth’s history, there have been five known mass extinction events. These are characterized by a global environmental disruption that results in large percentages of marine and terrestrial species dying out. All five of the previous extinction events caused at least more than half of all species living on the planet to go extinct with the Permian extinction killing 96% of all species. With these extinction events occurring, only 2% of all the species that lived on Earth are actually alive today. These are usually caused by volcanic activity, an asteroid strike, climate change, or changes in the chemistry of the ocean. However, extinctions aren’t all that bad. After an extinction event, new niches are open and able to be replaced so the species that have survived experience rapid evolution. For example, after the terrestrial dinosaurs went extinct, mammals were able to replace them as the large predators. While extinction over millions of years can be beneficial, current extinction rates, during the Holocene, are currently hundreds of times higher than normal leading researchers to believe they will likely not be able to bounce back. The Holocene Epoch began about 11,700 years ago up until the present time. The Holocene has only lasted for a few thousand years and hundreds of species have already gone extinct. Why is this happening?

The simple answer to the cause of the Holocene extinction is human activity, whether it be direct actions such as habitat encroachment and unethical hunting, or indirect actions such as pollution and climate change. On the topic of habitat encroachment, there is of course deforestation, which is the mass cutting down of trees and vegetation in a single area. Deforestation is usually due to something being built, such as a shopping mall, the need for more housing for people to live in, or the biggest reason of all: the need to raise more food for human consumption. Industrialization is a double whammy whe it comes to being harmful to the environment. This is because of the harmful emissions that are emitted in the production of these products, and then the loss of natural habitat in order to build a place to sell these products. Not to mention the amount of waste that is produced per capita, it seems that we are truly running out of space, but not just on land. Global warming is another huge issue due to these emissions like methane and carbon dioxide. This causes sea levels to rise, and extreme fluctuations in weather. This is harmful to many organisms because the one downside to evolution is that it is very slow, so it is completely useless when it comes to dealing with immediate problems with an animal’s environment. Unethical hunting is perhaps the most direct method of causing many species to go extinct. There are trophy hunters that hunt animals where it is not needed to keep the population in check, and there is also over-hunting. Over-hunting is a problem when lawmakers are not quick enough to set stipulations for hunting, or when hunters disregard the current laws that are in place regarding a certain species. A species being hunted down to such low numbers lowers its genetic diversity, making it prone to extinction.

As mentioned thousands of species have already been officially classified as extinct since the beginning of the Holocene Epoch, but many of those species met their end since the start of the Common Era. Advancements in human technology, including modern hunting and agricultural practices, have accelerated the rate of extinction even further. Many species from larger families have fallen at the hands of humans, including multiple species of tigers, rhinoceroses, and otters, all of which were hunted for their desirable tusks and furs. The explosion of the human population has driven the demand for crop and livestock space to a new extreme, and all that land that needs to be cleared causes those species that cannot adapt to a new habitat to fall as well. Many species of birds around the globe have been lost due to habitat loss as a result of deforestation, unable to cope with new ecological niches as well as modified migratory and breeding patterns. These are only a few of the vast list of species that have fallen as a direct result of human action, and there are many, many more that have still been lost in some way due to our presence. Humanity’s fight for survival has cost many species their existence, but if we can help to mitigate the unnecessary damage we cause to our planet and everything that calls it home, we may have a chance to help save some of the ecological diversity while we still can.


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