Always Trust Your Gut Extinct

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach, title from a Paula Abdul quote

The backstory for today’s adventure is that this is the first scientific question I seriously researched. It is also the reason I don’t trust the “experts” or the “consensus”. In 1988, E. O. Wilson, an ant expert with little knowledge of extinction, made a startling claim that extinction rates were through the roof. He claimed there was a “Sixth Wave” of extinctions going on, and that we were losing a huge amount, 2.7% of all the species per year. This claim quickly went viral and soon was believed by everyone. So back in 2003, a decade ago now, I researched the question, found that Wilson was wrong by orders of magnitude, wrote it up, sent it around to the journals to see if they would publish it,  and … well, let me just say that I was not received kindly. I was a voice crying in the wilderness. They didn’t give me a look-in, I was challenging the consensus. As far as I know, I was the only one saying that Emperor Wilson had no clothes … and as a result, I was not encouraged to continue publicizing my views.

But the world goes on, and three years ago I simplified and streamlined my work and published it as a post on WUWT entitled “Where Are The Corpses“. In it, I argued that there was no “Sixth Wave” of extinctions, that Wilson’s numbers were wildly exaggerated, and that current extinction rates (except in isolated islands and Australia) are not unusual in any way. Dr. Craig Loehle rewrote and developed the ideas, and he got it peer-reviewed and published in Diversity and Distributions, available here. Craig wrote about it in a post entitled “New paper from Loehle & Eschenbach shows extinction data has been wrongly blamed on climate change due to island species sensitivity“. Title says it all …

extinctions_birds_mammals_historicalFigure 1. Stacked graph of total historical bird and mammal extinctions by year. This charts of the spread of European species (foxes, cats, rabbits, dogs, humans, weeds, diseases, etc.) to Australia and the islands. The earliest extinctions are from the time Europeans arrived in the Caribbean. There is a second wave of exploration and settlement in the 1700s. Finally, the spread of empires in the 1800’s led to the peak rates around the turn of the last century. Since then, the rates have dropped.

Having written so early and so extensively to try to debunk the claims of massive extinction rates and the bogus “sixth wave of extinction” hyped by the alarmists,  I was pleased to receive a note from Anthony pointing out the publication of a new study in Science magazine (paywalled, naturally) entitled Can We Name Earth’s Species Before They Go Extinct? It’s gotten lots of media attention, mostly due to the fact that in the Abstract, they say that estimates of extinction rates are way overblown. My emphasis:

Some people despair that most species will go extinct before they are discovered. However, such worries result from overestimates of how many species may exist, beliefs that the expertise to describe species is decreasing, and alarmist estimates of extinction rates.

I must say, seeing that phrase “alarmist estimates of extinction rates” in Science made me smile, it was a huge vindication. However, I fear that they still have not grasped the nettle. I say that because at the end of the paper they say:

Conclusion

The estimates of how many species are on Earth (5 ± 3 million) are now more accurate than the moderate predictions of extinction rates (0.01 to 1% per decade). The latter suggest 500 to 50,000 extinctions per decade if there are 5 million species on Earth.

Why do I think that their conclusion is so badly flawed?

Like many modern scientists, rather than trying to find the most probable, they simply assume the worst. So they give their calculations assuming a 1% decadal extinction rate. Here’s the problem. That’s no more believable than Wilson’s 2.7% per decade rate. There are about 3,300 mammal species living on the continents (excluding Australia). If we assume that one percent of them go extinct per decade, that would mean that we should be seeing about 33 continental mammal extinctions per decade. It’s worse for birds, a 1% extinction rate for birds would be about 80 continental birds per decade. We have seen absolutely nothing even vaguely resembling that. That’s only slightly below Wilson’s estimate of a 2.7% extinction rate, and is still ridiculously high.

Instead of 33 mammals and 80 birds going extinct on the continents per decade, in the last 500 years on the great continental landmasses of the world, we’ve only seen three mammals and six birds go extinct. Only nine continental mammal and bird species are known to have gone extinct in 500 years. Three mammals and six birds in 500 years, that’s less than one continental mammal extinction per century, and these highly scientific folks are claiming that 30 mammals and 80 birds are going extinct per decade?  … once again I’m forced to ask, where are the corpses?

This kind of world-blindness astounds me. I’ve heard of living in an ivory tower, but if you were making the claim that it’s raining, wouldn’t you at least look out the ivory windows to see if water were actually falling from the sky? How can you seriously claim that we’re losing dozens and dozens of species per year when there is absolutely no sign of that in the records?

Because the reality is that despite humans cutting down the forests of the world at a rate of knots for hundreds and hundreds of years, despite clearcutting for lumber, despite slash-and-burn, despite conversions to cropland, despite building hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and fences, despite everything … only nine continental mammal and bird species have gone extinct.

That gives us actual, not theoretical but actual, estimates of the historical extinction rates for continental birds and animals. For continental mammals that works out to 3 extinctions per 3,300 continental mammal species per 50 decades equals 0.002% per decade, somewhat below their low estimate of 0.01% per decade. For birds, it’s 6 extinctions per 8000 continental species per 50 decades, which is only slightly lower. If we assume that we’ve missed four out of five of the historical extinctions, very unlikely but I suppose possible, it still works out to only about 0.01%.

So their very lowest estimate, that of an extinction rate of 0.01% per decade, turns out to be a maximum estimate of what we’ve seen on the continents over the last five centuries.

Now, this does not include the islands and Australia. Rates there have historically been quite high. But the high historical rates there, as shown above in Figure 1, are the result of what might be called “First Contact”—the first introduction of numbers of European plants, animals, and diseases to previously isolated areas. But in 2013, there are few islands on the planet that haven’t seen First Contact. As a result, the extinction rates on the islands and in Australia, while still higher than on the continents, are extremely unlikely to have another peak such as they had at First Contact.

Finally, let me say that the low extinction rates should not be any cause for complacency. What my studies have shown is that the real threat to mammal and bird species is not habitat reduction, as incorrectly claimed for the last couple decades. The real extinction threat to birds and mammals is now and always has been predation, either by humans, or by imported “alien” species, particularly on islands. Hunting by humans threatens bonobo chimpanzees and other primates, as well as tigers, rhinoceros, and other mammal and bird species. Hunting is the extinction threat, not habitat destruction, and always has been, whether the hunters were animals or humans.

CODA

People are always giving me grief about how I’m not getting with the picture, I’m not following the herd, I’m not kowtowing to the consensus. I have no problem doing that, particularly given my experience regarding extinctions. For years I was the only person I knew of who was making the claim that E. O. Wilson should have stuck to his ants and left extinctions alone. Wherever I looked scientists disagreed with my findings. I didn’t have one person I knew, or one person I read, who thought I was right. Heck, even now, a decade later, the nettle still hasn’t been grasped, people are just beginning to realize that they were fools to blindly believe Wilson, and to try to manage a graceful climb down from the positions they took.

What I learned in that episode was that my bad number detector works quite well, that I should stick to my guns if I think I’m right, and that I should never, ever, ever place any faith in the opinions of the experts. They were all wrong, every single last swingin’ Richard of them, and I was right. Doesn’t mean I’ll be right next time, I’ve been wrong plenty both before and since … but it has given me the courage to hold on to some extremely minority positions.

It is my strong belief that I will also be vindicated in my claim that the earth’s temperature is regulated, not by CO2, but by a host of interlocking and mutually supportive homeostatic mechanisms that maintain the temperature within a fairly narrow range … time will tell. In my opinion, the experts in the climate field have shown that they don’t know a whole lot more about the real underpinnings of the climate than E. O. Wilson knew about extinctions … but that’s just me, and YMMV.

The very finest of a lovely day to you all,

w.

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333 thoughts on “Always Trust Your Gut Extinct

  1. The “consensus” of the experts at NASA on January 28, 1986 was that the space shuttle Challenger was ready to launch:

    So, we’re going to base the decision to launch legislative (forced) restructuring of the global economy on consensus?

  2. Wasn’t there an article some time back on WUWT that showed these extinctions are nearly all island species (except for a few cases) that became extinct once regular communications with other areas were established?

  3. You paper is well reasoned and will be attacked by the entire E=GREEN industry. For their goal is to reduce HUMAN populations by 2/3 as stated by the Sierra Club, Green Peace and others that pay for a green research institute – their chief Scientist got on TV and said for the earth to become 100% sustainable humans must reduce their population by 2/3 or maybe 4 billion need to die to save the world.
    Consensus OPINION is just that OPINION and should not be confused with any kind of proper science. Keep up you good work for they have no facts in their data sets so like AGW it will fall apart in a short time. They can never obtain a SCIENTIFIC PEER REVIEWED PROOF as they will not provide the the base data set. Without the base data how can one recreate the hypothesis and to test the conclusion for validity?

    Illegitimi non carborundum

  4. It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed. On the other hand many species have done well. Big garden bird count next weekend for those who want to get involved.

  5. Willis, I always learn so much from you. Not only in the material you present but in the way you think. Thank you for sharing both with us. You just keep on doing what you’re doing! There are many applecarts that need upsetting and you do it better than most!

  6. Well I think we need a public investigation of why during the Elizabethan era, there was not a single animal ever went extinct. With Frank Drake and his fellow pirates running all over the world’s oceans, they had to be killing off something; well maybe it was all fishes that they offed in those years.

  7. Public service announcement: Don’t copy-past while distracted; Challenger explosion does not equal discovery tribute. (sigh)

  8. nvw says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Willis,
    Did the Science paper reference Loehle & Eschenbach?

    No such luck. I figure the climbdown is going to be effected without anyone ever really admitting that Wilson had his head up his anomaly and fooled just about everyone.

    w.

  9. Do you mean to say that human progress is not going to be responsible for more extinctions than our Pleistocene kin that hunted the mammoths into extinction, along with the saber tooth’s, giant sloths, wooly rhinoceros, giant beaver, etc., etc., etc.
    If we were capable of that slaughter considering our population density, you need to re-evaluate. /sarc, if necessary.

  10. It depends on a definition of species. A Sierra Club docent once told us that trout from one stream is a different species than a trout from a stream on the other side of mountains. I asked him if Japanese humans were the same species as African humans. Of course, he said.

  11. Gareth Phillips says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

    It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed. On the other hand many species have done well. Big garden bird count next weekend for those who want to get involved.

    I’ve always wondered why it is that folks love catastrophes. Half a catastrophe just won’t do. I do not find a single report saying that there were no mistle thrushes seen in the UK. I see reports that their numbers have decreased by half … but half a catastrophe won’t do.

    w.

    PS—If I were a Mistle Thrush, you wouldn’t find my okole in England, it’s an icebox right now …

  12. 2010 – No Known Species Went Extinct . http://www.anenglishmanscastle.com/archives/009796.html
    2011 – Another Year Of No Extinctions In the Great Extinction Event http://www.anenglishmanscastle.com/archives/010055.html
    The number of species examined increased again to 62,000.
    The Red List – Species changing IUCN Red List Status (2010-2011)
    Species declared extinct – 0
    Species previously declared extinct now unknown – 2

  13. Might I comment the wolf became extinct in the US until Canada resupplied in Yellowstone as an experiment. Wolves are still rare in Europe. They seem to be thriving today in the US. Canada also resupplied Russia and other far northern nations with buffalo that had been wiped out previously. The US buffalo population is now also coming back after being almost wiped off the face of the earth. It seems to me modern man had done much to begin the process of re-establishing once original species back in their former ranges,rather than wipe out species. There are many more such projects ongoing even as I write worldwide. Whales come to mind. Not to mention most modern day tigers are in western zoos. Perhaps the world needs to understand extinctions levels are happening in third world countries, especially Africa and India, and China. There are problems. Perhaps we should remember then world isn’t North America.

  14. I looked up Wilson and see that he is now 83 or 84 but I was wondering if he ever revisited his “sixth wave of extinctions” and if anyone ever called him on it?
    Anyone know if he ever stepped down on his position?

  15. Not sure if you mentioned it, but in addition to the lack of a surge in extinctions, there is also a constant flow of new species discoveries!
    Birds: “During the 20th century, ornithologists published a number of periodic reviews of newly described species. The purpose of each of these was to collect together in a single paper, for ease of reference, all new species’ descriptions published in the period of study, and to present an analysis of these, indicating which represent valid species, and which, for various reasons, do not.

    The first such review was published in 1934, by the ornithologist Wilhelm Meise, covering the period 1920 to 1934. Meise presented his review to the Eighth International Ornithological Congress (IOC) in Oxford. The review listed 600 new species’ names described in that period. Meise was of the opinion that between 135 and 200 represented good species. At the ninth IOC in 1938, Meise presented a second paper, listing 23 new species described in the intervening period, plus a further 36 which had been described during 1920-1934 and not covered in the earlier paper. ”

    New species discovered in New Guinea, alone, from 1998 to 2008:
    “Among the new species discovered from 1998 to 2008 were 218 new kinds of plants (of which around 100 are orchids), 580 invertebrates, 134 amphibians, 2 birds, 71 fish (including an extremely rare 8-foot-long river shark), 43 reptiles and 12 mammals.”

  16. John West – that’s an offensive and idiotic comparison. WTFs with all these space shuttle disaster comparisons? Good grief.

  17. Excellent as usual, Willis.

    Paul Marko mentions mammoths going extinct. This link [originally posted here by Gail Combs] is fascinating. [Pay no attention to the blog name, etc. Just try to figure out what really happened to the millions of Mammoths that roamed the Northern latitudes not all that long ago.]

  18. Willis, E.O. Wilson is s scientist like yourself. Has the penny dropped yet, or the second shoe ?
    Scientists are no cleverer than anyone else they just think they are.

    Meanwhile my Institute in North Wales is investigating the relationship between Professor Steve Jones’s work on the DNA of snails and Italian musical thought in the 17th century.

    The results may be devastating.. Then again further research may be required.

  19. How will John Kerry handle this news as he has taken up the alarmist drumbeat as his#1 priority as Secy of State?

  20. @John West: 10:39 am
    Your point about Challenger and consensus is valid.
    I think, however, the real lesson to be taken from Challenger are the facts that:
    Challenger had been delayed 6 times prior to Jan 28 and NASA was becoming the butt of jokes.
    On the morning of Jan 28, pad temperatures were 28 degs F. There was vocal dissent from Thiokol engineers

    Consensus without opposition is one thing.
    Consensus that doesn’t heed opposition is quite another.

    Read: Telecon Meeting (Ethical Decisions – Morton Thiokol and the Challenger Disaster)
    Author(s): Roger M. Boisjoly (former Thiokol engineer, “Seal Team”)

    http://www.onlineethics.org/Topics/ProfPractice/PPEssays/thiokolshuttle/shuttle_telecon.aspx

    The whole page is worth a read, but the plot thickens after “Figure 10.”

    Then Joe Kilminster of MTI was asked by Larry Mulloy of NASA for his launch decision. Joe responded the he did not recommend launching based upon the engineering position just presented. Then Larry Mulloy asked George Hardy of NASA for his launch decision. George responded that he was appalled at Thiokol’s recommendation but said he would not launch over the contractor’s objection. Then Larry Mulloy spent some time giving his views and interpretation of the data that was presented with his conclusion that the data presented was inconclusive. …. The statement by Larry Mulloy about our data being inconclusive should have been enough all by itself to stop the launch according to NASA’S own rules,

  21. You’re forgetting to add all the animals that have gone extinct that we never knew about, as well as Big Foot, the Yeti, Sasquatch, Chupacabra, the Loch Ness Monster, the Boggy Creek monster, and the New Jersey Devil, to name a few. Now the extinction percent is alarmingly high, isn’t it? /sarc

  22. I once read that 99.9% of the Earth’s species which have ever existed were extinct before many harnessed fire.
    Which makes me question is the green movement trying to preserve? I think trying to limit/manage the impact of man kind is one thing. Trying to take us back to the stone age is another…

  23. People never seem to look at the species creation or development side. The march of living beings is always toward extinction which naturally means that new species have taken up for adaptation and opportunistic reasons. If the experts are right, over 95% of all the species that have ever existed are now extinct and yet we are possibly in an era of huge diversity, perhaps unmatched for some time. So are there any papers estimating the march forward development rates for existence of new species?
    I guess that would be far too optimistic for them.

  24. Why is the extinction of a species a bad thing? I thought that was just survival of the adequately fit and part of nature. Is there any evidence species numbers should remain static? Will “saving” a weak species damage other species?

  25. Ever since your last post here about this topic; was it really three years already?

    Anyway, I raise various plants including orchids. When reading the historical information about the great biologists who established the families and genera; one finds that “original” species identification required dessication, drawings, habitat description and often microscopic criteria to separate closely related species.

    There are many species that have a species identification filing; but have not been found again. No, these are not extinction events. Instead they’re attributed to various issues including bad information, poorly kept or dried specimens, loose or perhaps overzealous desire of the biologist to be the first to identify a species…

    Which is along way round to get to the point; there is NO definitive original basis for species identification.

    Looking at the ‘big’ peaks in the extinction charts above; there is a huge peak when the famous biologists were busy identifying/verifying species, there is another peak in the mid 20th century just when many of the original species cards/filings were reviewed. Perhaps many of the ‘assumed’ extinctions are species that were not originally ‘found’ properly and may have never ‘been’.

    Add to this, the issue that when unusual species are found; there is no truly exhaustive effort to find ALL populations and all locations where populations are found. Critters are declared ‘in danger’ because where they were originally found they are not currently found. Again, no truly exhaustive search. Take the case of the elusive ivory billed woodpecker; first it was thought extinct, then it was maybe, again extinct, now it is a definite maybe.

    Most populations thought to be extinct are originally sparse to begin with and limited in distribution. If the species is rigidly dependent on narrow habitat requirements then it is always in danger of extinction and it doesn’t require man’s interference to cause it; though there are plenty of examples where man did not help. A prime example would be the dodo, as someone else mentioned, isolated island populations.

  26. Mr. Eschenbach,

    Unfortunately being proven correct is sometimes it’s only reward. Dire predictions of species extinction are based entirely on numerical sleight-of-hand. If I set the number of species (known and unknown) high enough I can make one extinction sound like a disaster.

    I was reminded of a quote from P.J. O’Rourke who said, “A lay person might want to ask one or two questions. Are we talking rhinos and tigers or are we talking shower curtain mold and windshield bugs?” I would add “hypothetical shower curtain mold and undiscovered windshield bugs.”

  27. One of the authors of this paper is Robert May, a very big mouth and a high priest of scaring people about the alleged consequences of AGW. Happily his star is on the wane, at least in the UK.

  28. Bjorn Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, published a decade ago or so, discussed at length the weakness (or absurdity, or groundlessness) of Wilson’s extinction fantasy (see his chapter 23).

  29. How many new species are being created at the same time others are going extinct? This should be an important question given the flexible and evolving definiton of what is and is not a species. This is compounded by the growing tendency to view unique subpopulations legally as separate species. Some species such as salmon can develop unique breeding populations within a human lifetime.
    I would also bet there are more vertebrate and plant species in North America now than there was prior to 1600. I have found it convenient in these discussions to ask people to name any animal they have seen at any time in their life that no longer exists.

    Agree wholeheartedly about the importance of predation/harvest.

  30. Thanks for the article as usual, Willis. Willis, I hereby proclaim you to be the Anti-Czar of Science of the USA.

    Underestimate the current mass authoritarian anticultural mass media-government-corporate movement at your own risk. If they can get this much mileage on a carbon scam, there are a hundreds of more ways that you and your wallet will be conformed.

    Point is, modern people view themselves as openminded, a dangerous, feel-good delusion.

    Bottom line of the current world movement I just mentioned is that you must assimilate. We need to admit that something went very wrong in Western Civilization, that it’s on a fast and ugly descent; science corruption, sickly society, mass mental illness, creeping authoritarian socialism, self-asorbed, lame art. All marked by a serious lack of creativity and innovation.

    Am I off topic or talking about Willis and why no one listens?

    I remember Frank Zappa saying how the old generations were much more likely to let innovative people try things, and that the hip, younger generations are really more closed-minded. Listen to the crap on the radio and see for yourself, then listen to older music like this: http://stevemichaelsvaultovinyl.com/listen/ , one hundred years of American pop hits; not to mention jazz and classical music. I suggest that we invert reality in this way, that being modern absolves us from our stupidity.

  31. Habitat loss is a major factor in extinction dynamics, but two problems make this difficult to detect with simplistic analyses.
    First is data quality – it is very difficult to prove a species is extinct. Just ask if the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct – a large bird in an area with many ornithologists – imagine how much worse the data is in West Africa.
    The second problem is extinction debt. When an area of habitat is lost, we expect that the number of species that will survive in the remaining habitat will decline, but the species will not become extinct immediately, but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.
    If trusting your gut was such a good idea, diet related illnesses would be much less frequent.

  32. Nice article, but I think you are incorrect about habitat destruction and/or environmental degradation, which I include as habitat destruction.

    We know that birds like Falcons and Eagles in N. America were just about extirpated because of toxins in the environment, although there is disagreement, I believe, about precisely which toxin(s) were responsible; some say DDT, while others point to lead in gas.

    Whatever it was that just about cleared (Bald) Eagles and (Peregrine) Falclns from the skies of N. America, it was not hunting.

  33. albertalad says:
    January 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

    “Not to mention most modern day tigers are in western zoos.”
    ==================
    That may be, but some are still taking precautions :)
    Per:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_attacks_in_the_Sundarbans

    “The locals and government officials take certain precautions to prevent attacks. Local fishermen will say prayers and perform rituals to the forest goddess, Bonbibi, before setting out on expeditions. Invocations to the tiger god Dakshin Ray are also considered a necessity by the local populace for safe passage throughout the Sundarbans area. Fishermen and bushmen originally created masks made to look like faces to wear on the back of their heads because tigers always attack from behind. This worked for a short time, but the tigers quickly realized it was a hoax, and the attacks continued. Government officials wear stiff pads that rise up the back of the neck, similar to the pads of an American football player. This is to prevent the tigers from biting into the spine, which is their favored attack method.[3]“

  34. As for those who think that human population needs to be reduced by several billion…

    When they start leading by example, I will take notice. I still won’t believe they are correct, but I will start to believe they were serious.

  35. Its also reasonably obvious that after first contact the next biggest cause of species extinction is habitat destruction, typically from conversion of forests to agriculture or logging or both.

    Which is the OTHER reason to support anything that reduces the need to convert habitat in the first place and convert some existing lands back.

    This mandates against growing stuff to burn it in a vain attempt to reduce CO2. Don’t complain about GMO’s (or anything) that reduces crop yields.

    Going long on gas and nuclear not only benefits our society by lowering power costs. But it will also reduce the rate of species extinction even farther as we can protect habitat batter and in many cases increase it.

  36. atheok says:
    January 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks, atheok. Most of your post was great, but I’d take slight exception to the following:

    Looking at the ‘big’ peaks in the extinction charts above; there is a huge peak when the famous biologists were busy identifying/verifying species, there is another peak in the mid 20th century just when many of the original species cards/filings were reviewed. Perhaps many of the ‘assumed’ extinctions are species that were not originally ‘found’ properly and may have never ‘been’.

    Actually, the majority of the extinctions that I have read about (and I’ve read a bunch) have been real. The dodo bird actually did exist, and actually did go extinct. And there was a wave of extinctions in the islands and Australia when European species were introduced.

    The CREO, the Committee on Recently Extinct Organisms, does the best job in this regard. They have declared a number of mammals that the Red List said were extinct as still extant under another species name, or were never a separate species in the first place. Unfortunately, to date they don’t cover the birds, just the mammals. For the birds, the Red List does a good job but not a great job …

    w.

  37. Gareth Phillips says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

    “It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed…”

    I know from personal observation that Sparrows and Starlings have not crashed, I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty in northern Ireland, which as you may know has a much milder climate than the mainland UK, my home and nearby buildings are regularly visited every year by scores of nesting pairs of Sparrows, in fact last year while doing some work in my attic I found a 3’X1′ nest, as it wasn’t causing any damage I decided not to destroy it and boxed it in and secured it from the rest of the attic after the birds left. When migration season comes around hundreds can be seen and they even fly in and around my kitchen when I leave the back door open.
    It may be the case that birds have been migrating further west from the mainland UK due to the much colder winters lately. I’ve notice more than the usual amount of Robins, when I take my dog for a walk around the forest these Robins flock along the path and follow us until we leave.

    We have had less hornets and wasp nests spotted over the past 3 summers as the colder seasons haven’t helped these nests develop fully, A neighbor of mine and his grandson accidentally stood on a wasp nest last summer and suffered only one sting to his leg, if the preceding winter and spring had been warmer it could have been fatal, but the nest they walked into had small underdeveloped wasps that covered the both of them but were unable to sting through their clothes which was lucky. If you read any so-called “expert reports” that bees and wasps are declining, It’s is due to colder seasons which the nests become less productive. The other phenomenon that happens in the countryside and forests during colder seasons is a rise of fungal related diseases, these diseases can effect Bees and wipe out many trees from an area if not brought under control, there are also types of mite and other parasites that thrive during colder and wetter conditions.
    One other point, forests and certain species of insect need lots of sunlight and warmth to thrive in numbers, when the favorable conditions decline for the insects that certain species of migratory bird prefer as their source of food, become scarcer so the birds will simply follow their food, also as other insects thrive during colder conditions so to will the species of bird that prefers that insect as it’s source of food and so will change it migratory habits too.

  38. @Gareth Phillips: I am not sure about thrushes, but you don’t need to worry about starlings and sparrows. I guess you could say their populations at a certain location have crashed, but there is a more straightforward way of saying it: they have moved on. I see huge flocks of starlings where I live (Great Shelford). They come and go. I can’t recall seeing sparrows in England, but having spent the first half my life among them, I wouldn’t even expect to see one outside London these days, and even if they have left the island entirely, I wouldn’t be surprised either. I find it easier to imagine sparrows and starlings seeing the extinction of humans than the other way round. They can cohabit with humans or live independently pretty much anywhere. If they don’t like to be in your garden right now, it only means they like it more somewhere else. Sparrows can breed three times a year when the conditions are right; starlings are very competent breeders too. They are trapped and incinerated by the ton around O’Hare. That’s not what I would call a crash. There are places where they are regarded as pests.

  39. Willis writes “This kind of world-blindness astounds me. I’ve heard of living in an ivory tower, but if you were making the claim that it’s raining, wouldn’t you at least look out the ivory windows to see if water were actually falling from the sky?”

    I couldn’t agree more, Willis. Nice, healthy level of scepticism there. Statistical analysis alone has only so much value. If you want to get to the *actual* truth you need to actually get off your ar$e and gather real data.

    I wish people treated our temperature records in the same way by getting out there to weather stations, looking around and talking to the people who attended them over time to actually gather real meta-data instead of producing synthetic tests and manipulating the data in such a way as to be “probably better”. Especially weather stations where anomalous temperature jumps are detected.

    Major Kudos to Anthony for doing more of this.

  40. The distribution of extinctions in Figure 1 is interesting. The AGW dogmatists keep telling us that extinctions will increase as climate warms, yet the period of the largest number of extinctions occurred during the 1880 to 1915 cool period, then dropped sharply during the 1915-1945 warm period, and the second largest extinctions occurred during the 1945-1977 cool period.

  41. Darwin cautioned that species were merely taxonomic crutches by which scientists tried to categorize the complexity of the natural world. Darwin correctly saw no rigid taxonomic lines between species- scientists could draw that line anywhere they wished-nature was not bound to follow. (In fact his theory of evolution was at its heart an attack on taxonomy.)
    Species were once a tool to further understanding- they are now a weapon to advance public policy. Science and species have both suffered as a result.

  42. “Expert” is a legal and media term. “Experts” are used in legal duels where the jury decides whose expertise is longest. Brought on as an “expert witness” the first thing you are told is to cool the qualifying observations that “weaken” your position. That is, an “expert” is forbidden to exercise scientific caution or scepticism in any statement made to the court.

    When interacting with the media, an “expert” is generally selected by researcher’s on the basis of the inexpert assumptions regarding a topic that are the preferred view point of the reporter or publisher. Constraints are not so overt. The interviewer simply wants the expert to “keep it simple [for the audience].” The result is often that an hour’s interview is reduced to a five-minute sound bite where the reporter has edited your words until what ever your purported to have said is in agreement with the reporter’s expectations about the topic and – not infrequently – about the “expert.”

  43. richard telford says:
    January 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Habitat loss is a major factor in extinction dynamics, but two problems make this difficult to detect with simplistic analyses.

    I note that you don’t supply a scrap of evidence for that claim, that habitat loss is a “major factor”. Not one corpse to back up your claims. On the continents we don’t have a record of one single species that was a forest obligate that has gone extinct, from habitat loss or any other reason. The reasonable conclusion is that it’s hard to drive animals extinct.

    First is data quality – it is very difficult to prove a species is extinct. Just ask if the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct – a large bird in an area with many ornithologists – imagine how much worse the data is in West Africa.

    So what? Yes, it’s difficult, but the Red List and CREO both declare animals extinct without any problems.

    The second problem is extinction debt. When an area of habitat is lost, we expect that the number of species that will survive in the remaining habitat will decline, but the species will not become extinct immediately, but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.

    Since we have been cutting down forests for hundreds of years, destroying forest habitat over huge acreages, and since Wilson made his prediction a quarter of a century ago, we have had more than enough time to demonstrate that your claim is doesn’t pencil out.

    Here’s the problem, Richard. I went over the detailed numbers for this very idea in my post “Where Are The Corpses”, devoting about six paragraphs to showing why your claim falls over in the slightest breeze.

    Now I know that “Post Normal Science” is all the rage, but even so, if you are going to discuss my work, don’t you think you should at least read it first?

    Then, if you still believe you are right, you could quote what I said and show that it was wrong … old fashioned science, I know, but that’s all I care for.

    If trusting your gut was such a good idea, diet related illnesses would be much less frequent.

    Actually, for keeping down diet related illnesses, we use a closely related bodily measure, the “smell test” … and it is extremely successful in keeping down the number of diet related illnesses. And of course there is the famous “Mark I eyeball test”, which I discussed here. So yes, we all trust our bodies even for that, Richard … because just like my gut feelings, my “smell test” can generally be trusted if it detects something rotten.

    Regarding your claim that trusting your gut is a bad idea, you may be right, Richard, I don’t know. Perhaps trusting your gut is in fact a bad idea, I wouldn’t have a clue, it could be 100% a bad idea for you … but I certainly trust my nose and my eyes and my gut, I plan to continue doing so, and this post is one of many reasons why.

    w.

  44. One comment on the Australian references:
    Lot of species here have strange life-cycles, especially up here in the “dry” tropics. Creatures that seem to have disappeared, then reappear after decades. Or aren’t supposed to be here, but get blown out of the tree canopy when a cyclone passes over. Natural environment ranging from huge tracts to small enclaves that are unexplored by taxonomists. New stuff is popping up all the time …

  45. Steve P says:
    January 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Nice article, but I think you are incorrect about habitat destruction and/or environmental degradation, which I include as habitat destruction.

    Thanks, Steve. You may include poisoning birds as “habitat destruction”. Nobody else does, so I’d give that particular claim up and consider actual destruction of the habitat. It is this actual destruction, particularly the clear-cutting of tropical forests, that Wilson used in his claimed “species-area” mathematical relationship to develop his estimate of extinction. It is this destruction, not poisoning, that is claimed to be the cause of the apocryphal “Sixth Wave of Extinctions”.

    Unfortunately, the “species-area” relationship doesn’t work for predicting extinctions.

    w.

  46. SteveP: There is considerable controversy over the actual effect of DDT on eagle populations. I was wondering if there ever was a true controlled lab study concerning the effects. Also, ranchers shot eagles routinely for snagging livestock. I do know that eagles are still threatened by people using lead shot on rabbits and leaving them lay, though it really seems to be a pretty small number that are affected. Also, rural subdivisions out West take out huge areas of open space, as do the eagle-chopping turbines (which are okay to kill eagles with, just not DDT).

    Pat: Thank you for the information.

  47. In Israel, at least 2 species believed extinct were found in the last couple of years.
    Besides, I think the best way to show this is another case of “bad science” is to ask the writers to name 10 mammal species and 10 birds that have gone extinct in the last decade.
    You know what? 5 each will do…

  48. Would that CO2 get rid of all the chiggers here in West Texas grass in the spring time.

    Head Line News: “Chiggers gone extinct”

  49. It seems E.O. Wilson used Drake’s Equation to come up with his prediction for species extinction.

  50. Wilson mentioned (all) species, Willis looked at birds and mammals. Readers should notice how many times this frame deceptively shifts back and forth in the article above.

    “Having written so early and so extensively to try to debunk the claims of massive extinction rates…”

    Your paper was half a page of arithmetic based upon a couple tables you found on the internet, plus two pages of dubious “interpretation.” What else you got?

    And there are a couple of reasons that you find no support for your “predation causes extinction” claim. One, you have no evidence to support that for the millions of extinctions that have occurred thoughtout history, and two, some folks who really did put lots of time into extinction theory proved that it could not be true. Now if you want to say that recent first contact extinctions were largely caused by overpredation of defenseless species, that much more narrow claim would be quite right and you would find little disagreement. But that still does not make habitat loss less right. The fact is that habitat loss is somewhat tautological with respect to introduced predators in the sense that introducing the brown tree snake to Guam obliterated the snake-free habitat for the species that had no defense against tree snake predation. It is hard to be so right when you have to make a tautology wrong!

  51. sl149q says:
    January 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Its also reasonably obvious that after first contact the next biggest cause of species extinction is habitat destruction, typically from conversion of forests to agriculture or logging or both.

    Thank, sl149q. No, it’s not “reasonably obvious”. It is widely believed, based on the reasonable “species-area” relationship, and because it seems, well, reasonable. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Life is incredibly tenacious. Reducing habitat squeezes species up, but it doesn’t seem to drive them extinct.

    For example, we’ve been cutting down forests on the continents of the planet for hundreds and hundreds of years. I have not found a single record of any continental forest bird or mammal going extinct from any cause. If you know of one, bring it up … but that won’t help, because according to you it is the second “biggest cause of extinction” … what extinction? Where are the corpses?

    OK, color me wrong. Since I first did this story, according to the Red List, the red-bellied mouse opossum from Argentina, scientific name Cryptonanus ignitus, was declared extinct in 2008. (In passing let me say that if scientists were to declare that my species was named Krypton-anus ignite us, I’d consider checking out too … but I digress.)

    The opossum’s habitat was not reduced, it was totally destroyed and plowed under. Here’s the strange part. It wasn’t even declared to be a separate species until 2002 …

    Of the other three species show by the Red List, the aurochs is the same species as the modern cow, CREO says “Currently extant under valid species name”. The other two are island species.

    So despite centuries of forest habitat reduction, the Red List says we (finally) have one single solitary example, one lone extinction of a continental forest mammal species from any cause.

    Given the enormous destruction of the global forests starting in the 1700s and before, increasing through the 1800s and the 1900s, to today where it is estimated that less than half of the original forests remain, I would say it is “reasonably obvious” that habitat reduction is very, very rarely a cause of species extinction. If it were a big cause as you claim, we’d have seen lots and lots of extinctions of forest mammals. We haven’t seen that at all. That’s what I call reasonably obvious … ymmv.

    w.

  52. Willis Eschenbach, is a rational voice in the wilderness. They never ‘look out of the window’ as this could be counterproductive to their ‘Cause’. It is the same with their CAGW, Sea Level Rise and Ice Melting/Glacier retreats. A few simple checks could quiet their minds but this is the last thing that they want.

  53. Matt Skaggs says:
    January 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Wilson mentioned (all) species, Willis looked at birds and mammals. Readers should notice how many times this frame deceptively shifts back and forth in the article above.

    “Having written so early and so extensively to try to debunk the claims of massive extinction rates…”

    Let me quote from my earlier post, which you might consider reading before venturing foolish comments:

    Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995) So, following Wilson’s lead to see if the extinction claims are true, I have investigated the timing and number of mammal and bird extinctions in modern times (the last 500 years) which are due to habitat reduction.

    Contrary to your claim, Wilson said that birds and mammals should have shown MORE extinctions than other groups.

    Readers should note that Matt is not interested in the science, just desperate to prove me wrong. I have made it clear many many times that I am talking about the birds and mammals on the continents. I have made it clear why. Rather than doing his homework, Matt is accusing me of being “deceptive”, a polite way of calling me a liar.

    Matt, I won’t have any truck with a man who calls me a liar. You can either retract it and admit you didn’t do your homework, or you and I are done discussing anything ever. I won’t hold for it.

    w.

  54. Man is the only species that gives a rip about the extinction of other species. Every other species seeks to maximise its success in whatever ecological niche it is in.

    Does man’s insistence on the survival of other species, that Mother Gaia would let make a graceful exit, drive the entire system in the direction of non-survival ?

  55. Reality check says:
    January 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    SteveP: There is considerable controversy over the actual effect of DDT on eagle populations.[...] Also, ranchers shot eagles

    Yes, some think that leaded gas was the real culprit in eggshell thinning.

    Good point about ranchers and others shooting eagles. That misguided and despicable practice indeed may have played a role in the reduction of eagle populations, but these I think would be mostly Golden, rather than Bald Eagles, which are seldom found in dry country. Beyond that, I doubt hunting or shooting would have played any significant role in the decline of the Peregrine Falcon.

    Once upon a time, before there were golf courses, and bean fields, subdivisions, freeways, and shopping malls, all of that land was home to many native flora and fauna. Perhaps such development has not resulted in complete extinction of these species, but certainly populations of native flora and fauna must have been drastically reduced where such development has occurred.

    Would reduction in population numbers be a possible precursor to extinction?

    The Native American bison or buffalo, is a good example of a creature that was almost extirpated by methodical slaughter, but which lumbers on today in greatly reduced numbers. If the same number of buffalo existed now, as before the attempt to gun them all down, where would they live today?

  56. January 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Eyal Porat says:

    I think the best way to show this is another case of “bad science” is to ask the writers to name 10 mammal species and 10 birds that have gone extinct in the last decade.
    You know what? 5 each will do…

    I recently did just that at a seminar where a local ‘conservationist’ was invited to share an opinion on the ravages of property development and rabitted on about extinctions spiralling out of control here in Australia … she stumbled about and could not name one but was full of excuses … pwned !

  57. Willis,
    Informative, as usual. You may want to consider the fact that the eventual writers of articles and their editors, maybe especially in “science” magazines, are mostly mathematically illiterate. A zero here or there is not going to make too much of a difference to the copy editor. Usually, since I am somewhat challenged, reading any type of article like that would see me with a mental as well as a real calculator. Just for fun.

  58. Apparently all the British Isles mackerel as moved north to Iceland because of climate change and warmer seas particularly around the south west coast of Britain.

    “Part of the problem would seem to be climate change, with mackerel seeking colder waters.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/22/britain-iceland-faroe-islands-mackerel-war

    However look at the official temps for a local south of England area near me, now apparently ‘devoid’ of mackerel;

    3rd graph down shows that it has actually gotten cooler in the last 6 years!

    http://www.cefas.defra.gov.uk/our-science/observing-and-modelling/monitoring-programmes/sea-temperature-and-salinity-trends/presentation-of-results/station-24-weymouth.aspx

    So the mackerel either are responding to a 50 year trend or planning for the future. And another thing if they don’t like the average 13°C around here increasing to 13.5°C why do they all need to migrate to Iceland’s 8°C? wouldn’t they all just shift north by .5°C?

  59. willis – it’s us sceptics who are not looking out “the window” & participating in the environment!!! LOL.

    24 Jan: Vancouver Sun: Misty Harris: Exposure to conspiracy theories has dramatic consequences
    Researchers from the University of Kent in the U.K. found that simply reading a conspiracy theory increased people’s feelings of powerlessness, which ultimately reduced their desire to politically engage. And this effect occurred even when the information wasn’t directly related to government.
    Exposure to pro-conspiracy material on climate change, for example, not only made people less motivated to reduce their carbon footprint, it also negatively affected their interest in voting.
    “When you’re exposed to a conspiracy – say, that the government is involved in secret plots – it can make you feel as though your actions won’t make a difference,” said doctoral student Daniel Jolley, the study’s co-author. “(It) appears to trigger a conspiratorial mindset.”…
    Those who read the conspiratorial material were more likely to report feelings of climate powerlessness, uncertainty and disillusionment, which in turn reduced their desire to act in environmentally friendly ways…
    But they also note that conspiracy theories potentially lead to societal disengagement – and, as their research shows, a waning interest in political and environmental participation.
    “Conspiracy theories aren’t necessarily just harmless fun,” said Jolley. “They may have potentially serious social consequences.”…

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/national/Exposure+conspiracy+theories+dramatic+consequences/7866992/story.html

    ——————————————————————————–

  60. I thought, apparently erroneously, that Stephen Jay Gould had disputed E. O. Wilson’s assertion about species extinction, but I could not locate any statement to that effect in the literature in my library.

    One interesting fact came out in that cursory search, though, was that twenty years ago, “British Museum entomologist Nigel E. Stork reports that the total number of formally named species of animals and plants (excluding the diverse kingdoms of fungi, bacteria, and other unicellular creatures) now stands at approximately 1.82 million…” of which more than half are insects ["A Special Fondness for Beetles" S. J. Gould].

    Also, some entomologists estimated there to be close to 100 million species of animals and plants based on the known proportion of beetles to everything else. Reminds me of certain “facts” and “theories” sounded by various climate scientists.

  61. A couple of years ago our local school hosted a presentation by a couple of senior school students on “Global Warming and the New Wave of Extinctions”. As it was a cold, wet night with nothing on TV I went along. Amazingly, about 100 people attended.
    They rolled out every cliche and bad statistic ever heard and correlated cause and effect between totally unrelated facts, statistics, etc. The audience was appreciative and wept uncontrollably when told that 10,000 species had been ‘extincted’ by the 1 degree Centigrade increase already experienced. “We are doomed!” they wailed
    During question time I asked:
    1. Can you name two species declared extinct in the past 2-years? and
    2. How many new species are being created each year, as opposed to being found?

    One gentleman near the front cried ‘Shame!” and people started stamping their feet. The Moderator, a city councillor said “I think we can ignore that. Next?”

    Yes, we are doomed, but not for the reasons they think … but because a new Dark Age of Unreason and Ignorance is upon us

  62. richard telford
    January 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.
    ###
    BS. If it takes centuries for a species to expire, its not habitat reduction that did it.

  63. Because we can not define what a species is, we can’t define what extinction is, especially when Marxism gets involved.

    1. So, did Canis lepophagus go extinct, or did it just change?
    2. C. lupus ( a resent arrival) did not become extinct in the CONUS, despite protestations to the contrary, by Marxist propagandists trying to redefine language. The Grey Wolf was EXTIRPATED. (The extirpation of the c.lupus was not easy, but took considerable effort and resources to accomplish.)

  64. Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm
    richard telford says:
    January 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Habitat loss is a major factor in extinction dynamics, but two problems make this difficult to detect with simplistic analyses.

    I note that you don’t supply a scrap of evidence for that claim, that habitat loss is a “major factor”. Not one corpse to back up your claims. On the continents we don’t have a record of one single species that was a forest obligate that has gone extinct, from habitat loss or any other reason. The reasonable conclusion is that it’s hard to drive animals extinct.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Just because you are blissfully unaware of the enormous literature on species extinction after habitat loss does not mean that habitat loss does not drive species to extinction. I know that you will argue that these are local extinctions rather than global extinctions but that is an irrelevant distinction. All extinctions are local, some just happen to be extinctions of the last remaining population.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    First is data quality – it is very difficult to prove a species is extinct. Just ask if the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct – a large bird in an area with many ornithologists – imagine how much worse the data is in West Africa.

    So what? Yes, it’s difficult, but the Red List and CREO both declare animals extinct without any problems.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I would have have hoped that this would be obvious: if it is difficult to tell if species are extinct, it is difficult to count how many are extinct. Sure some species are (almost) definitely extinct, and are listed as such in the redlist. But there are many species where the data is just not good enough to tell. Some are listed as data deficient, others are just not shown – look for example at Lepidoptera in sub-Saharan Africa. The redlist only lists 311 species, a small fraction of the total diversity.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    The second problem is extinction debt. When an area of habitat is lost, we expect that the number of species that will survive in the remaining habitat will decline, but the species will not become extinct immediately, but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.

    Since we have been cutting down forests for hundreds of years, destroying forest habitat over huge acreages, and since Wilson made his prediction a quarter of a century ago, we have had more than enough time to demonstrate that your claim is doesn’t pencil out.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    There is a considerable literature on extinction debt: experimental deforestation in Amazonia, microcosm experiments, observational evidence, and theoretical modelling. All this evidence shows that extinction debt is a real phenomenon at the patch scale. If it operates at the patch scale, it is impossible for it not to operate at the global scale.

    The time scale of extinction debt in large fragments in centuries-long. Large-scale long-term clearance of the most species rich habitats, tropical rainforests, are a relatively recent phenomenon. Therefore much of the extinction debt has still to be paid.

    I presume that since you are so sure that extinction debt does not affect your analysis that you have read at least some of this literature, and applied your gut instinct to determine how the well established concept of extinction debt is flawed. If you cannot be bothered to read any of the literature, at least read the Wikipedia page.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Here’s the problem, Richard. I went over the detailed numbers for this very idea in my post “Where Are The Corpses”, devoting about six paragraphs to showing why your claim falls over in the slightest breeze.

    Now I know that “Post Normal Science” is all the rage, but even so, if you are going to discuss my work, don’t you think you should at least read it first?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Alas, I did read it. I believe I commented how weak the analysis was. You have done nothing to improve it and you appear not to care that you may be wrong.

  65. Based on the the Red List, more than 16,000 species of the world’s creatures are threatened with extinction, right now. The Red List is maintained by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) and it’s one of the gloomiest books in the world to most biologists, and, what with AGW, it is set to get even gloomier.

    Willis, perhaps you should listen to our E.O.Wilson…the ant man, an evolutionist by trade…he knows allot more about extinction than you give him credit for. And certainly allot more than you.

  66. There’s Nessie who may be dead, but who cannot lay to rest without a tear the yellow throated pink toed, greenwinged, desert miniature grasshopper!?!?!?! It was a species that had not yet been discovered yet but went extinct before we could count it. And that is what Trenbreth would say if he knew about the yellow throated pink toed, greenwinged, desert minature grasshopper. We just didn’t know for sure it existed, but we thought we did, and now that we can’t find it, it must be counted as a missing grasshopper. Note to self: Must get grant from Gore to study missing grasshopper.

  67. trafamador, maybe you could allot time in your day to list what Wilson knows that Willis does not?

  68. OK, trafamadore. Name ten animal species that have officially become extinct in the past decade.

    …Name five, then.

    …Two?

  69. trafamadore, are you aware that 99.9999% of all species that ever existed on planet earth have gone extinct. It is called evolution. All normal, nothing to fret about.

  70. Thanks for the article Willis. This for me is the second big scare thrown out of the window by WUWT, next to the climate scare. It is not I was overly concerned about species being lost, as this is happening all the time throughout natural history. And for sure in the future will happen to homo sapiens. But still I was misled by not knowing the real data.

    Why is it people like to go for these scares, like mass extinction and climate catastrophe and what have you? I am speculating now, but I think in the end it is a way to evade our responsibilities.

    I am not sure it is a deliberate ploy by politicians to cultivate these scares to camouflage the real problems they cannot deal with. These real problems of course are not in the realm of nature or mother earth but are purely social and political. Maybe it is on purpose with some politicians but I think it is a general tendency to evade our responsibilities we all have more or less, because it is no easy matter. Our failings in the social and political area are extremely painful and we rather not see them. If anything they are the direct result of our own actions and choices so we should be able to deal with them, right? But we hardly can, can we? So we rather avoid this painful fact and start looking elsewhere.

    I am not advocating any political or ethical agenda here. Actually I am just stating that if there are real and serious issues to be solved, they lie overwhelmingly in the social and political arena, that is in our dealing with each other, and not in our dealing with nature.

    So cultivating these big scares is a projection of our social and political failures onto the scenery of nature. We don’t want to see “enlightened man” to fail so we rather see nature fail. But the scare “nature goes wrong” actually deep down is a scare we go wrong ourselves. IMHO.

    I guess it is a price we have to pay in our age of “lost certainties”. Kind of a panic reaction. A mass panic is a real phenomena, like a stampede, and it can wreak havoc. And we humans are social animals, aren’t we? So sometimes we also stampede and may act completely lunatic, like with this CO2 nonsense. But luckily also it is a temporary something. It will go over. My “history model” tells me.

    OK I hope this makes some sense. It is speculative stuff I know, but then, my gut feeling tells me so ;-)

  71. D.B. Stealey says: “OK, trafamadore. Name ten animal species that have officially become extinct in the past decade.”

    These were documented in the last ten years as extinct, although who knows when the last of each species died. They are just from one genus of frogs:
    Philautus dimbullae
    Philautus eximius
    Philautus extirpo
    Philautus halyi
    Philautus hypomelas
    Philautus leucorhinus
    Philautus maia
    Philautus malcolmsmithi
    Philautus nanus
    Philautus nasutus
    Philautus oxyrhynchus
    Philautus pardus
    Philautus rugatus
    Philautus stellatus

    So think about it, each of these species is gone forever. Forever. Like the dinosaurs. Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers….

  72. Bob says: “trafamadore, are you aware that 99.9999% of all species that ever existed on planet earth have gone extinct. ”

    Yep. But tell me, Mr. Asteroid, what does that have to do with senselessly causing extinction?

  73. Ya know, trafamadore, just like Willis, I pay attention to what I write:

    Name ten animal species…

    Still waiting.

  74. Ironically, Nigel Stork was one of the reviewers of my paper with Willis–He sent me a note after it was accepted so it is not a secret. He recommended publication. So he knows about our work showing that continental extinctions are low. Yet no mention of this in the Science paper, nor a citation.

  75. I rather being worried about the explosive amount of new species discovered last few years, and the relation with rainforest being cut away.

    Any species not found yet is another forest still alive..

  76. I remember your original article well. It was one of the reasons I kept coming back to WUWT. I thought bravo at the time. I think you may well be right about Earth’s temperature regulation, too. However, I think your “Always Trust Your Gut” article title is a bit misleading. You were a man of the sea and land with much practical (and probably uncommonly good) judgment. I think your informed judgment (despite lack of specific training in biology and ecology) and not your gut made you wince when you saw those O. Wilson extinction predictions. I had the same gut wrenching, I admit, experience when I first saw the Hockey Stick, since I have been a weather wonk and follower of climate my whole life, without specific training. Some others, without experience and/or good judgment, have gut wrenching experiences that result in what normally passes from the gut (perhaps with a bull in front). So experience outside the ivory tower is very helpful! I actually have academic (and much more practical experience) in biology and ecology, so I congratulate you on your insights that were missed by the so-called experts. I do take issue with your species extinction attribution- there’s that word again! Of course, there have been many reasons for the extinction of well over 99% of the species that have ever lived, from the four or five mass extinctions from catastrophic events to the over hunting (over harvesting) of the Passenger Pigeon. Habitat degradation, destruction, and fragmentation were most likely not the reason for the majority of past extinctions excepting those cataclysmic events. Today, I would argue, they probably are, or, at least, will be in the future. One example. The northern hemisphere migratory bird species that winter in tropical forest are threatened, with many populations of warblers, vireos, and other species, including their predators and the tropical flora, because tropical forests are increasing being replaced by ranch land grasses, monoculture agriculture, and, most ironically and tragically, palm plantations for palm oil. There’s no immediate or catastrophic threat, and mankind can probably survive OK without tropical forests and the biodiversity they contain. For me, the warblers and orioles and Broad-winged hawks and all the others are like Shakespeare or music. We can probably survive OK without them, but do we want to?

  77. Another factor in extinctions not yet mentioned is competition from introduced species. An example is the N American grey squirrel rapidly displaced the native red squirrel across much of Britain.

    Which leads me into an anecdote about how small an area of habitat a species needs to survive, at least in the short term.

    When I was a teenager, I was hospitalized for an appendicitus. I was on the third floor of a U-shaped block and between the 2 wings of the U were 5 or 6 pinetrees. So I could see close up the squirrels running around in the trees. Surprisingly, they were red squirrels.

    I spent my childhood exploring the woods in the area and they were full of grey squirrels, but I had never seen a red squirrel before. Yet a few had managed to survive on those 5 or 6 trees.

  78. D.B. Stealey says: “Ya know, trafamadore, just like Willis, I pay attention to what I write: Name ten animal species…Still waiting.”

    Hum. So are you like one of the poor students I haf to teach? So a frog is not a plant or a bacteria. So you are left with only a few possibilities…can you name them? Impress me.

  79. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Based on the the Red List, more than 16,000 species of the world’s creatures are threatened with extinction, right now. The Red List is maintained by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) and it’s one of the gloomiest books in the world to most biologists, and, what with AGW, it is set to get even gloomier.

    Yes, the Red List does say that … however, I fear they are far from neutral. Remember that if the extinction threat vanished tomorrow, they’d be out of a job … so which way do you think they’ll swing?

    The Red List folks have bought in totally to the “Sixth Wave of Extinction” from habitat reduction. As a result, they have put a whole raft of species on the threatened list. They say these species are threatened with extinction because their habitat has been reduced … and now you say that the thousands on the threatened list are evidence that habitat reduction is a real threat. Unfortunately, that is circular logic that only Ouroboros would be proud of.

    Willis, perhaps you should listen to our E.O.Wilson…the ant man, an evolutionist by trade…he knows allot more about extinction than you give him credit for. And certainly allot more than you.

    Actually, trafamadore, Wilson’s claims about how the species-area relationship can be used to calculate extinction risk are on their last legs. Fewer and fewer people believe them. He does know a lot more than me about ants. He should have stuck with that. His cockamamie claims on the bogus “Sixth Wave” have done nothing but damage to the environmental movement.

    Wilson claimed that since 1988, we’ve been condemning 27,000 species per year to extinction. By now, that makes a total of well over a half a million species that Wilson says are on death row, some of them for a long time … so where are the corpses?

    Wilson’s claims are a joke, trafamadore. They sounded great if you didn’t do the math, I guess, or if you weren’t suspicious like me. As a result, the claims suckered almost everyone, including scientists that should have known better, and obviously including yourself, into believing that we were losing hundreds of thousands of species … not happening, my friend. Wilson was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    So perhaps you should not listen to our E. O. Wilson, trafamadore, unless you want to go down with the sinking ship. He knows less about extinction than you give him credit for.

    w.

  80. Trafamadore,

    Your post is interesting to me. I’ve read Willis’s ‘Where Are The Corpses’ post. Can you explain specifically which part of his analysis you believe is incorrect? For example, has he made some sort of error in your view in categorizing ‘island/Australian extinctions’ vrs ‘continental’? Do you believe the numbers he researched came from a false source? Is his math wrong? Etc.

    I’m curious because your post stating that Wilson knows a lot more about extinction than Willis appeared to be totally devoid of support. Do you actually have anything with which to support your contention?

    Which brings us to the part I find interesting. When you posted this, surely you expected someone would ask you to justify your position, yet you posted without any such justification anyway. You must have had some reason. What was it?

  81. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    It wasn’t habitat destruction that killed those frogs off (if indeed they are actually extinct), it was and is chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease (transmitted by biologists studying amphibians?). So trafamadore, what would be the background extinction rate were humans never introduced to Earth? Are you saying that amphibian extinction is mirrored in the mammal and avian kingdoms? As Willis said, the extinction claims are wildly improbable when subjected first to the smell test and then to some back of envelope calculations. Like the boy who cried wolf, if your Wilson types keep spewing patent nonsense, will we credit them if they inadvertently tell the truth?

  82. Ever read abut bird choppers? Killer Green!

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8807761/wind-farms-vs-wildlife/

    Steve P says:
    January 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Nice article, but I think you are incorrect about habitat destruction and/or environmental degradation, which I include as habitat destruction.

    We know that birds like Falcons and Eagles in N. America were just about extirpated because of toxins in the environment, although there is disagreement, I believe, about precisely which toxin(s) were responsible; some say DDT, while others point to lead in gas.

    Whatever it was that just about cleared (Bald) Eagles and (Peregrine) Falclns from the skies of N. America, it was not hunting.

  83. trafamadore
    January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm
    ###

    I think the question was in regards to REAL species, not some fantasy names made up to inflate the number of endangered species in RedBook. Almost every single worker in anura is a nut-case. No one should trust the validity of any amphibian taxon created in the last 20 years.

    I am sure that many readers of WUWT don’t have time to become experts in all of the various fields discussed here. The taxonomy of amphibians is probably pretty obscure to most. For the past 20 years or so the Marxist have been placing great emphasis on using frogs as a focus of propaganda, screeching about the imminent loss of gazzillions of species of them. Frogs are ideal. They are cute, and many people are attracted to them. They are also difficult to study, and often go unnoticed in the world, so by and large most people are truly ignorant about them. The last means that it is very easy to lie about their state. Along with this has been a push to describe every regional variant as a species specifically to make their plight seem dire and to create a means to steal private property. Maybe 5% of the recently described frogs are valid. It has been no accident that their have been all of those reports of froggy disasters trumpeted from the rooftops that have turned out to be completely wrong.

  84. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Based on the the Red List, more than 16,000 species
    ###

    And guess what WHO CARES. If the influence of man did not exist, the contents of the Red List would not change. That document is laughably flawed. For one thing I would erase every single name that was added in 1996.

    You probably should stop before you make even more of a fool of yourself then you have already.

  85. Willis contributes a lot to this site but there are a lot of over-siimplifications in this particular article. First, its a bit unfair to blame E. O. Wilson for the hyped claims made by Greenpeace and the like about extinction due to climate change. Most biologists would agree with Willis that the threats from alien introductions, especially of diseases such as avian pox and avian malaria, are more urgent problems at least for birds than is climate change. However, extinction is a real and ongoing problem, regardless of the cause. I agree that climate change has been over-hyped, but Island species extinctions are on-going in birds especially, e.g. two species have been lost in the the Hawaiian Islands alone since 1980 despite huge efforts to save them. Similarly, the California Condor would certainly have been lost if it were not for millions of dollars spent on a captive breeding program – there are many other examples of birds saved “just in time” and at great expense, eg the Lord How Island woodhen and the Rarotongan Flycatcher.

    Nowhere does Willis mention plants or invertebrates or the vast majority of species that are neither birds nor mammals, although they are presumably implied when he mentions numbers like five million species for the planet. Most of the rest of his discussion concerns the way-less-than-one per cent that are birds or mammals. In Hawaii, about a hundred plants are thought to have become extinct in the last one hundred and fifty years. A few will doubtless get rediscovered, but probably not most of these. Much of this is due to habitat destruction, pigs, and the like although some may be due to bird pollinators becoming extinct. About half the native Hawaiian land birds have gone extinct since European contact. As for continents versus islands, an extinction is an extinction wherever it occurs

    How does Willis know how many birds went extinct before lets say about 1800? The world and its fauna was scarcely known then, lets have some references to back up these counter-intuitively precise numbers.

    Having said all that, Willis is right about climate change not being the primary concern, in my view. Indeed the warmists have damaged the cause of saving species both by focussing on the wrong threat and by damaging the credibility (by confusing people and by over-hyping things) of those who are concerned with preventing further species losses.

    John Game
    California

  86. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm
    ============
    How do you know they are extinct ?
    Maybe they just evolved.
    Yes, if they died it sucks, but on this planet there is a food chain.
    You don’t have to like it, but there it is.
    Outlawing defense mechanisms ensures extinction.

  87. Willis Eschenbach says: “Wilson’s claims are a joke, trafamadore. They sounded great if you didn’t do the math, I guess, or if you weren’t suspicious like me.”

    The math? How can you do the math? You don’t know, do you you? We don’t either, I admit, because we don’t know a species is gone until many years after the event has happened, but at least we try to estimate, and you don’t even think of it. Of course the IUCN list is part of the estimate, because those happen to be the species that end up on the extinction list, or havent you noticed that, prob’ly not, because they are “they are far from neutral.” Whatever, that’s your opinion but only that.

    Have you considered that in your analysis you only look at mammal and birds. Less than 1% of the species? Prob’ly not. My frog list above, in one little list, outnumbers your entire list for any decade?

  88. trafamadore climbs down:

    “Hum. So are you like one of the poor students I haf to teach? So a frog is not a plant or a bacteria.”

    Translation:

    “I cannot name even two (2) animal species that have officially gone extinct in the past decade.” [I had challenged trafamadore to name two animal species. As Desert Coyote notes, one frog species can have multiple names.]

    So with that strange comment, trafamadore climbs down. I will agree with him, though, about his “poor students.” Can you imagine the pseudo-scientific nonsense they have to upchuck in order to pass?

  89. @GoodBusiness says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:51 am
    “You paper is well reasoned and will be attacked by the entire E=GREEN industry. For their goal is to reduce HUMAN populations by 2/3 as stated by the Sierra Club, Green Peace and others that pay for a green research institute – their chief Scientist got on TV and said for the earth to become 100% sustainable humans must reduce their population by 2/3 or maybe 4 billion need to die to save the world.”

    I would like to look that up. Link?

  90. DesertYote says:”I think the question was in regards to REAL species, not some fantasy names made up to inflate the number of endangered species in RedBook.”

    You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species, and if you think that some species are “fantasy species” and some arent, then I have no problem will electing you to a fantasy species of subhumans.

  91. Actually the Red List says stuff like this… (about those frogs)


    It is known only from the holotype. There have been no records since its original collection and the species is now believed to be extinct because recent, extensive field surveys of the amphibian fauna of Sri Lanka, including at the type locality, have not rediscovered this frog.

    It is known only from the lost holotype. There have been no records since the species was described in 1853, and it is now believed to be extinct. Recent, extensive field surveys of the amphibian fauna of Sri Lanka, including at the type locality, have failed to rediscover this frog.

    In other words — maybe it was — maybe it wasn’t — maybe it was something else…

    So I dunno — it looks like the claims are not even dubious — they are speculation.

    Just sayin’

  92. D.B. Stealey says: “Translation:I cannot name even two (2) animal species that have officially gone extinct in the past decade.” [I had challenged trafamadore to name two animal species. As Desert Coyote notes, one frog species can have multiple names.So with that strange comment, trafamadore climbs down. I will agree with him, though, about his “poor students.” Can you imagine the pseudo-scientific nonsense they have to upchuck in order to pass?”

    You should really take a biology class some day. At the High School level to start.

  93. I came across a problem with extinction rates when I learned of the concept of ‘locally extinct’. Biologists use this term routinely, and of course, it sometimes gets mixed up with real or broader patterns of extinctions when calculating rates.

    If something is only ‘locally extinct’, then by definition it is NOT extinct. It can be reintroduced, it can simply have been displaced by e.g. a new town or city. Kanagaroos are locally extinct in Sydney, big deal, there are plenty of them in the outback. The east Australian current brings warm water fish down the east coast each year, which then due when the current fails or cools. They become ‘locally extinct’, only to return the next year.

    Also, islands are not continents. This same argument is used ad infinitum regarding Easter Island and how that culture’s demise is a warning to us all. Yes, but isolated islands are not continents, they don’t trade, they dont benefit from exponentially increasing advantages with increasing land areas. The relationship between an island’s sensitivity and a continent’s is not linear.

    And about Easter Island, don’t get me started-I have a theory that it was largely a corrupt and entrenched bureacracy that did it, i.e. people in power enforcing a rigid religious system, and not allowing the people to adapt and change when things became grim. In other words, it was not a environmental disaster spawned from an unregulated market cutting down all the trees, as often claimed, it was a an environmental disaster spawned from a rigid religious-environmental bureaucracy-the same kind of rigid religious-environmental bureaucracy that stifles scientifitic debate at times now.

  94. Here is one “pending extinction” on the Red List… so other than canine distemper — what is leading to the (possible) extinction or what is the nature of the threat?

    Could it be Conservation? Could it be Global Warming? Could it Be “The Green Wave”???

    http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/maritanoon/2012/08/17/third_largest_power_company_in_the_world_is_the_third_largest_recipient_of_risky_loans/page/full/

    Environment

    Remember that the common denominator of these “special seven” projects was a “fast-tracked DOI approval?” The policy has come back to bite the projects.

    According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT), “The $1-billion Genesis Solar Energy Project has been expedited by state and federal regulatory agencies that are eager to demonstrate that the nation can build solar plants quickly to ease dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. Instead, the project is providing a cautionary example of how the rush to harness solar power in the desert can go wrong—possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s solar initiative.”

    The problem is the “expedited” process may endanger the whole project. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform’s March 20, 2012 report says, “To expedite site approval, NextEra opted for a less thorough process.” As a result, the site “encroached on the habitat of the endangered kit foxes.” NextEra had to move the foxes prior to grading the site. “Ultimately, seven foxes died from NextEra’s removal process.”

    Additionally, there have been concerns of desert tortoises and a “prehistoric human settlement.”

    But warring factions within the environmental movement also plague the NextEra Genesis Solar project.

    You really do have to look at habitat loss — and why it is occurring. — he’s right.

    Here in Canada the same company rips out bald eagle nests to make way for wind turbines? Just google “Ontario Wind Resistance” there are lots of stories… and lots of protests and the Government? Issuing “secret permits”…

    So it seems species do go missing — that’s conservation for you…

  95. trafamadore says, ” So think about it, each of these species is gone forever. Forever. Like the dinosaurs. Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers”….

    Who cares! It is the future creatures that matter.

  96. We constantly see reference to “threatened” or “endangered” marine animals but there are no records of extinctions of any marine fish or invertebrate due to human activity and only two species of marine mammals. This does not mean that there are no threats at all but the real number of marine species facing any genuine risk of extinction has been grossly exaggerated. Most of the marine species on the Red List have populations in the millions.

  97. John Game says:
    January 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Willis contributes a lot to this site but there are a lot of over-siimplifications in this particular article. First, its a bit unfair to blame E. O. Wilson for the hyped claims made by Greenpeace and the like about extinction due to climate change.

    Since Wilson invented the “Sixth Wave of Extinction” claims, and invented the use of the fatally flawed “species-area” relationship for predicting extinctions, why on earth would he not bear responsibility for his own hyped claims? He is the one that came up with the wildly overblown “27,000 species committed to extinction each year” nonsense, not Greenpeace and the like. Did you read my underlying post, “Where are the corpses”? I went over all this, do try to keep up.

    Most biologists would agree with Willis that the threats from alien introductions, especially of diseases such as avian pox and avian malaria, are more urgent problems at least for birds than is climate change. However, extinction is a real and ongoing problem, regardless of the cause.

    Which is what I said.

    I agree that climate change has been over-hyped, but Island species extinctions are on-going in birds especially, e.g. two species have been lost in the the Hawaiian Islands alone since 1980 despite huge efforts to save them. Similarly, the California Condor would certainly have been lost if it were not for millions of dollars spent on a captive breeding program – there are many other examples of birds saved “just in time” and at great expense, eg the Lord How Island woodhen and the Rarotongan Flycatcher.

    Yes, I covered those topics as well, either in this post, the scientific paper, or my first post.

    Nowhere does Willis mention plants or invertebrates or the vast majority of species that are neither birds nor mammals, although they are presumably implied when he mentions numbers like five million species for the planet.

    True. I also didn’t mention insects, archaea, or Teddy Roosevelt for that matter. Like all studies, my study concerned itself with a specific range of subjects. That’s how science works.

    Most of the rest of his discussion concerns the way-less-than-one per cent that are birds or mammals.

    Oh, man, I already explained upthread why it just covers birds and mammals. Read the thread, it will save you from this kind of claims.

    In Hawaii, about a hundred plants are thought to have become extinct in the last one hundred and fifty years. A few will doubtless get rediscovered, but probably not most of these. Much of this is due to habitat destruction, pigs, and the like although some may be due to bird pollinators becoming extinct. About half the native Hawaiian land birds have gone extinct since European contact. As for continents versus islands, an extinction is an extinction wherever it occurs

    Again, so what? I have made no claims about plants or bacteria or a host of things. What do they have to do with me? In any case, the overwhelming number of island species have gone extinct from predation. Not habitat reduction. Predation. Get that into your head. Predation causes extinction. Habitat reduction doesn’t cause extinctions. At best it is a very minor factor.

    How does Willis know how many birds went extinct before lets say about 1800? The world and its fauna was scarcely known then, lets have some references to back up these counter-intuitively precise numbers.

    DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I spelled out the sources of all of my data in my previous post, which I cited at the top, so that people wouldn’t have to bug me about stuff I’ve already gone over … but nooo, you obviously think that you’re better than that, you don’t need to read the source documents before uncapping your electronic pen … bad mistake.

    To answer your question once again, as I said in my previous post, I have taken the numbers from the best of our scientific references, which is the Red List for birds and the CREO for mammals. References in the first paper. You don’t like the numbers, go bitch at them, I’m not interested.

    Having said all that, Willis is right about climate change not being the primary concern, in my view. Indeed the warmists have damaged the cause of saving species both by focussing on the wrong threat and by damaging the credibility (by confusing people and by over-hyping things) of those who are concerned with preventing further species losses.

    You haven’t pointed out one single thing that I’ve been wrong about, John, so your “having said all that” is entirely superfluous.

    However, I totally agree with your closing, that “the warmists have damaged the cause of saving species”, which is a tragedy to me. Contrary to what you seem to think, the fate of the other species on this planet is very important to me. That’s why I don’t like people haring around chasing imaginary causes for extinction. It means that they’re not dealing with the real causes, and that is a loss for us all.

    My thanks, I apologize for hollering at you but man, you really do need to do your homework before challenging me … I’ve spent some years thinking about this stuff, and have published on it, so give me the benefit of the doubt, and we can have a discussion.

    w.

  98. trafamadore says:

    “You should really take a biology class…”

    trafamadore still can’t name 2 animal species that went extinct in the past decade. So he changes the subject. That’s a FAIL, no?

  99. Chapter 31 of Julian Simon’s great book The Ultimate Resource 2 (second edition of The Ultimate Resource) debunks alarmist claims of a species holocaust. That came out in 1996. Simon’s work inspired Bjorn Lomborg to write The Skeptical Environmentalist (1998), which has its own debunking of species holocaust in chapter 23.

    The ultimate resource of course is people. Simon’s book should on everybody’s short list of the most important books ever written. It is the definitive answer to Malthus and the neo-Malthusians, cogent and encyclopedic at the same time, and written throughout with a deep understanding of the productive energies that are unleashed by liberty.

  100. You know, you win some and you lose some. The very least you can ever hope for is to be able to tell the difference. Geosynclinal theory did not segue gracefully into Plate Tectonics, et al.

  101. Craig Loehle says:
    January 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Ironically, Nigel Stork was one of the reviewers of my paper with Willis–He sent me a note after it was accepted so it is not a secret. He recommended publication. So he knows about our work showing that continental extinctions are low. Yet no mention of this in the Science paper, nor a citation.

    Thanks, Craig, I hadn’t picked up on that detail, that’s hilarious. Stark was a reviewer on our paper and an author on this paper and didn’t cite our work?

    The NIH syndrome at work … pretty chintzy of them not to cite us, given that. Oh well, such is life, but man … how petty can you get?

    My suspicion as to his motive for doing that? What I said in the head post, they are unwilling to actually grasp the nettle, and citing our paper would have made that fact obvious … instead they highlight and feature the very highest estimate of extinction, they want the climbdown from the ridiculous extinction estimates to be slow enough so no one notices much …

    All the best, thanks again for putting in most of the work on getting the paper published,

    w.

    PS— NIH = “Not Invented Here” …

  102. Steve P: Bald eagles definitely live in dry areas. Where I live in a dry region of the west. The only water available is from one river running through the city. There are reservoirs 30 miles from my residence. Golden eagles are the more dominate species here but there are definitely bald eagles around. They will eat fish when they can get it and rabbits, etc. when they can’t get fish. They also eat gut piles from deer, etc, during hunting season. (You are correct that goldens were probably most often shot, though the feeling that any eagle is a bad thing is not uncommon.)

    trafamadore: Are you saying it’s a sad thing your children will never see a TRex?

    I want to clarify my comment on habitat reduction. I do not believe that habitat reduction causes extinction, but rather can reduce numbers until the animal/bird/reptile adapts. Antelope in Wyoming have learned to jump fences much like deer do, as more and more land is fenced. Thirty years ago, this was very rare. Now, it’s not the most frequent method used (they slide under the fence if they can) but they are learning. For a while, in hard winters, the fences did reduce antelope numbers. Again, I don’t believe a reduction in numbers leads to extinction necessarily.

    The fact that species are gone forever is part of the way life on earth works. While there is no need to wipe out species indiscriminately, some species will always be lost. Those with very limited diets, very limited ranges, etc. would go extinct with or without man getting involved. Things change and they always will.

  103. from Traf: Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers”….”
    Bob says:”Who cares! It is the future creatures that matter.”

    Right. In a million years. Or two. Not something our great great great great great great grandchildern will notice. They will only notice the void of species. So who cares.

  104. @ trafamadore
    In defense of trafamadore, with whom I rarely agree:
    Google is your friend:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_mammals

    Eastern cougar 2011
    Japanese river otter 2012
    Pyrenean Ibex 2000
    Saudi Gazelle 2008?
    Baiji 2006

    I think it is foolish to downplay the seriousness of the threat of extinction.
    And saying that, I am not being sentimental. Let headlice and scabies go extinct tomorrow!
    However, if we restrict a species habitat, so that the population shrinks to just a few, chances are that that population will be in trouble sooner or later, just from not having enough genetic diversity.
    The shrill sounds of alarmists should not keep us from doing some reasonable things to be good stewards of this world. One example would be to create corridors between protected areas, so that endangered populations don’t get too isolated on little patches.

  105. In jest, but not really, there is one species that I care about not going extinct, although the future looks dismal — scientist. It seems to be regarded as merely a job title these days instead of as the commitment to a certain intellectual attitude. dogma rulz.

  106. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 6:37 pm
    “You should really take a biology class some day. At the High School level to start.”
    ============
    I’m at high school level, with an internet backup, just say go.

  107. D.B. Stealey says:”trafamadore still can’t name 2 animal species that went extinct in the past decade. So he changes the subject. That’s a FAIL, no?”

    Logic. You really need it, son. Goodbye.

  108. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says: “Wilson’s claims are a joke, trafamadore. They sounded great if you didn’t do the math, I guess, or if you weren’t suspicious like me.”

    The math? How can you do the math? You don’t know, do you you? We don’t either, I admit, because we don’t know a species is gone until many years after the event has happened, but at least we try to estimate, and you don’t even think of it.

    I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.

    I can’t help it that you are too foolish to go find my math, and actually read it and try to understand it, before attacking it and making a bunch of claims about how I don’t know how to do the math. People whose math abilities I trust have said I do know how to do the math, Dr. Loehle agreed with it, as did the reviewers …

    So tell me, tralfie, should I ignore all that and instead take the word of a random anonymous internet popup who doesn’t do his homework, and who doesn’t say where my math went bad, but who claims it’s wrong nonetheless?

    Thanks, but I believe I’ll pass on your offer of mathematical consultation …

    However, if you have the urge to wave your hands and bitch about my math, that’s your business, be my guest. If you want to look foolish for not understanding what you’re talking about, I can’t stop you.

    If you do want to attack my math, however, here’s how you get traction. You should first quote my words that you disagree with, so we’ll know what you are attacking, and then tell us what you think is wrong with it. That way we can actually have a discussion. Because at present, your flailing about is painful to watch. Do your homework if you want to discuss my work.

    w.

  109. P.S. Congratulations to Willis and Craig for getting their important work of debunking published by a hostile press. Quite a feat.

  110. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    DesertYote says:

    ”I think the question was in regards to REAL species, not some fantasy names made up to inflate the number of endangered species in RedBook.”

    You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species, and if you think that some species are “fantasy species” and some arent, then I have no problem will electing you to a fantasy species of subhumans.

    Dang, bro’, miss the point much? DesertYote was not making disparaging remarks about other species, he didn’t say they weren’t equal to humans. Take a breath, you’ve misunderstood him entirely, and are getting nasty based on nothing but your own misunderstandings.

    … Actually, your’re reminding me that now that you can’t tell jokes about Polacks or honkies or any ethnic group, all we have left are jokes about a) college students, because who cares?, and b) other species. Like the joke, what’s the difference between a gorilla pissing in the sink, and a college student pissing in the sink?

    The gorilla takes the dirty dishes out first …

    Lighten up, tralfie, a guy like the Yote who notes that sometimes species get named for less than honorable reasons is not a subhuman, he’s a keen observer of the human frailties. You can tell because just like me, he takes the dishes out of the sink first.

    w.

  111. Willis Eschenbach says: “I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.”

    Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.

  112. @trafamadore

    You say:
    So think about it, each of these species is gone forever.

    Ah, the maudlin weeping over lost species…that probably never existed.
    I just checked the books on your list of Philautus sp. that are “gone forever”. None of the ones I tried to verify (i got bored after about 10) have been seen in decades. All of the species that I looked at were either described by a single physical specimen collected or a holotype described anywhere from 60 to 150 years ago. None of them have ever been studied to verify their existence or to learn about their range or habitat. Two of them have since been reclassified as probable samples of P. wynaadensis, which is not extinct.

    Somehow, the great Global Amphibian Assessment managed to create and destroy these poor frogs in one fell swoop.

    You should be embarrassed for citing this nonsense without at least wondering why Philautus was losing so many species and doing 5 minutes of research before claiming that they went extinct in the last decade.

  113. What fascinates me is that the staunchest believers of ‘survival of the fittest’ cannot stand it when a species disappears when another moves into their territory!

  114. trafamadore says:

    “Goodbye.”

    The end of his climbdown, I suppose.

    One question I had, though, was because of trafamadore’s comment:

    “You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species…”

    So I am curious where trafamadore would draw the line, if spewcies are all equal. Banana slugs? anopheles mosquitos? leprosy bacterium? Or are only furry kittens and Polar bears the “equal” species? Just wondering…

    Me, I’d have no regrets about making a few species completely extinct.

  115. JohnH says:”You say:So think about it, each of these species is gone forever. Ah, the maudlin weeping over lost species…that probably never existed. I just checked the books on your list of Philautus sp. that are “gone forever”. None of the ones I tried to verify (i got bored after about 10) have been seen in decades. All of the species that I looked at were either described by a single physical specimen collected or a holotype described anywhere from 60 to 150 years ago. None of them have ever been studied to verify their existence or to learn about their range or habitat. Two of them have since been reclassified as probable samples of P. wynaadensis, which is not extinct. Somehow, the great Global Amphibian Assessment managed to create and destroy these poor frogs in one fell swoop.”

    two of 14? what ever. You don’t care. One species lost, big deal, no loss, right? You will die die some day, big deal, no loss.

  116. Hmm so trafamadore claims a bunch of frogs that may or may not be different species are animals? Oh and those frogs appear to be like breeds of dogs. A breed of dog is not a species so I think there is something specious about your claims.

    Oh and you definitely didn’t show 2 species of animal that went extinct in the last 2 years. You got nothing don’t you.

  117. @trafamadore,

    What you may be entirely missing is just how important climate change has always been to speciation. Particularly hominid speciation……

    “An examination of the fossil record indicates that the key junctures in hominin evolution reported nowadays at 2.6, 1.8 and 1 Ma coincide with 400 kyr eccentricity maxima, which suggests that periods with enhanced speciation and extinction events coincided with periods of maximum climate variability on high moisture levels.”

    state Trauth, et al (2009) in Quaternary Science Reviews (28 (2009) 399–411).

    The more poignant question might be what species will we be in the next interglacial, or the next one after that, when we are again at an eccentricity maxima……..?

  118. The Eastern Cougar… alive and well here in Ontario… One was wandering Horseshoe Valley near Barrie Ontario during our Vacation — first two seeks of September 2012…
    A site devoted to the cougar here…

    http://cougarrewilding.org/CougarNews/?cat=33

    One of the stories — fer example…

    Cougars return to Ontario, study says By Tom Spears, Postmedia News March 15, 2012 OTTAWA — A four-year Ontario study confirms what many rural residents felt sure about: cougars are again living wild in [...]

    Japanese River Otter…

    The Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) (日本川獺 Nihon-kawauso[1]?) is an extinct variety of otter formerly widespread in Japan. Dating back to the 1880s, it was even seen in Tokyo. The population suddenly shrank in the 1930s, and the mammal nearly vanished. Since then, it has only been spotted several times, in 1964 in the Seto Inland Sea, and in the Uwa Sea in 1972 and 1973. The last official sighting of one was in the southern part of Kochi Prefecture in 1979, when it was photographed in the mouth of the Shinjo River in Susaki. It was subsequently classified as a “Critically Endangered” species on the Japanese Red List,[2] On 28 August 2012, the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct by the Ministry of the Environment.[3][4] On January 10, 2013, dozens of eyewitnesses reported seeing them in Aichi Prefecture.

    Might be too soon for the Otter — they can have some of the otters that splash in the river out back of my house…

    You can do the rest…

  119. analyticalsciencesblog says:
    January 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
    -Richard Feynman

    Quite. The moment you believe you are expert, you are putting theory above proof and are immediately unscientific.

    I’d like a T-shirt with “Intellectuals go with what sounds good, Engineers go with what works. Don’t think: test.” on the front and “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” on the back.

  120. trafamadore responds to Willis:

    “You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it.”

    Willis? A fraud?? And to Desert Yote:

    “You are a poor excuse for a living being.”

    And he calls me “son”! Heh. I’ve forgotten more on this subject than trafamadore has ever learned. I’ve been retired for nine years now. “Grandpa” would be much more accurate.

    See, trafamadore is simply incapable of answering any questions put to him. So his response is to denigrate folks who clearly know more than he does. Really, he’s just winging it here.

    Note to trafamadore: when insults are your typical response to the scientific points raised by others, you have already lost the debate. You just don’t realize it yet. That comes with maturity.

  121. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says: “I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.”

    Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.
    ————————————————
    Might have saved time to put this forward in your original post.
    So, your argument is that Willis cherry picked by going with mammals and birds? Is there some reason that mammals and birds should be disproportionately impervious to extinction (relative to the rest of species), some argument you’ve got to back that up, some basis for thinking that, something?

  122. Traafamadore
    =======================
    Your list of tree frogs gone extinct is curious. Seems that most were confined to Sri Lanka or India.
    Also, Philautus extirpo was identified in 2005 and maia and pardus in 2007, which means they were extirpated very soon after they were named. It seems to me that you have found some tree frogs with an extremely circumscribed range that somehow were doomed because of this. Sort of like the Texas Blind Cave Salamander that is found in only one cave in Texas.

    Note the species given above: extirpo- such an odd name- means extirpated, does it not? It means that the discoverer of this species knew that it was doomed.

    So Trafamadore, it seems that you have again uncritically swallowed the usual sort of panic talk that people like you love, which you again bring here and invite us to swallow.

    Why don’t you do all of us a favor and study all the particulars on those frogs and determine, on a case by case basis, just exactly what led to the demise of each particular species and why they were vulnerable when other tree frogs are doing fine.

    Do this, please, before you spill any more salt tears on this thread and rust up WUWT.

  123. trafamadore;

    Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you. Suppose that your only hope is me, because I’m the only person anywhere near who can do anything about the situation, and luckily I have a loaded rifle and know how to use it. For future reference as I will have only seconds to consider my actions should such a situation occur at some point in the future, would you like me to:

    a) shoot the tigers
    b) shoot you
    c) stand by and let nature take its course

  124. @ WillR
    So the Eastern Cougar is alive in Canada? Glad to hear it. The US Wildlife Service was sure it was not.

    http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/newsreleasefinal.html

    Which confirms how difficult it is to know for sure if a species is extinct. It is easy enough to show a species is stil around (1 sighting is enough), but much harder to say it is not. However, a species like that, blinking in and out of existence (in human view that is), could use some protection, don’t you think?

  125. D.B. Stealey says:
    January 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    “That comes with maturity.”

    Which rather neatly brings us back to extinction. Where the immature…………………

  126. D.B. Stealey says: “So I am curious where trafamadore would draw the line, if species are all equal. Banana slugs?”

    How long have banana slugs been around? You should research it a bit. It would be terrible if they have been around for more than 3 million years?

  127. S. Meyer says:
    January 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    @ trafamadore
    In defense of trafamadore, with whom I rarely agree:
    Google is your friend:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_mammals

    Eastern cougar 2011
    Japanese river otter 2012
    Pyrenean Ibex 2000
    Saudi Gazelle 2008?
    Baiji 2006

    I’ve been over all of this in the previous post and the paper, S. Meyer. You should do your homework first. Google is not the scientific arbiter, nor was Wikipedia the source of my data. That would be CREO and the Red List. Let me take one example, the Saudi Gazelle. The CREO data says it is “Currently extant under valid species name”. If you want to argue with CREO about whether the “Saudi Gazelle” is a valid species or not, be my guest. All I can do is take their word for it, they are the highest authority I can find.

    I think it is foolish to downplay the seriousness of the threat of extinction.
    And saying that, I am not being sentimental. Let headlice and scabies go extinct tomorrow!

    I have not downplayed the seriousness of anything. To the contrary, I’m doing my best to point out the threats to extinction that actually are serious, so people can focus on them and pay less attention to the minor threats like habitat reduction.

    … The shrill sounds of alarmists should not keep us from doing some reasonable things to be good stewards of this world. One example would be to create corridors between protected areas, so that endangered populations don’t get too isolated on little patches.

    I couldn’t agree more, although I would describe myself as an awed guest in this world rather than a steward. Certainly corridors are good, connections are always good.

    In terms of what concerns me, for me the real threat is not extinction, it is the local reduction in biodiversity. For example, when a coral reef around an atoll loses all of its parrotfish, the reef’s health immediately declines because it is not being grazed. In addition, the thousands of tons of beach sand provided by the parrotfish are lost.

    Now, does it matter that the parrotfish is not extinct, that it exists on the next island over? Other than the chances of repopulating the atoll with parrotfish, it doesn’t matter a bit. For the people living on that atoll, local extinction of the parrotfish has the same effect as total extinction. The damage to the atoll and to the reef is the same in either case.

    My conclusion from this study is that extinctions are the wrong metric to look at, because species are so darned tenacious. The right metric is local biodiversity, particularly of whatever are the key species.

    w.

  128. @Stephen Rasey, 12:00pm and John West, 10:39 Challenger Disaster
    Perhaps it was the knowledge that President Regan wanted to mention the teacher in space during his second inaugural address that led both NASA management and Contractor management to override their technical experts.

  129. Willis, I am very disappointed by your combative tone. My comments were addressing what you wrote in this article, not everything you may have written in other posts. I don’t have time to address all your points, but the reason I brought up birds and mammals is that you challenge E. O. Wilson on the whole set of biological species, not just birds and mammals. So even if your point was valid about birds and mammals, you have not spoken to the issue of overall extinctions. What about land snails, ants etc.? Unless you can show E. O. Wilson is wrong here too you have not defeated his point, that was what I was trying to convey. You also implied that you thought island extinctions were waning, which is why I brought up the recent examples. Also, it is too much of a generalization to say habitat loss is not a big cause of extinctions. It depends on the type of organism, the place, the degree of habit change, etc. For plants, habitat loss is a significant cause of extinction.

    I think E. O. Wilson exaggerated the problem but you in my view are going too far the other way. E. O. Wilson deserves some credit for alerting people to the tragedy of extinctions, although of course many others did this as well. You and I both agree that climate change is not a significant cause of extinctions.

    John Game.

  130. The human species is the only species capable of saving the rest of the earths species from extinction. Our ability to divert the next comet/bolide from intersecting earth’s orbit, if possible, renders this discussion mute.

  131. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:

    “I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.”

    Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.

    If that was your major point, I certainly did miss it. Thanks for re-stating it.

    As I clearly explained in my original post, I chose to study birds and mammals for several reasons. Let me go over them, so we can get past this question.

    Wilson’s claim is that when habitat is reduced, all families of creatures living in that habitat will increase their rate of extinction. He made no distinction as to the kind of species. Instead, he just figured out the percentage, applied it to the total number of species, and said there would be that many extinctions.

    In addition, Wilson said that among the groups, some of the highest extinction rates would be found among birds and mammals. So what better groups on which to test his theory? Here’s my description from my previous post, which I guess you didn’t read, despite it being cited in the head post … but I digress. Here’s the quote:

    Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995) So, following Wilson’s lead to see if the extinction claims are true, I have investigated the timing and number of mammal and bird extinctions in modern times (the last 500 years) which are due to habitat reduction.

    In other words, Wilson’s extinctions are supposed to apply to all species, and especially to birds and mammals. So determining if the extinctions actually occurred to birds and mammals allows us to test and to falsify Wilson’s claim.

    There was another reason I chose birds and mammals to study—they are far and away the best known of all of the families of creatures on this amazing planet. Again, I discussed this in my original post, saying:

    Turning next to birds, when we are studying the extinction of species, birds have a very useful trait — they are extremely visible. Nearly all of them fly up where we can see them; they make distinct and identifiable noises; many are brightly colored; none are too small to see; many roost in trees so they can be seen from afar with binoculars; in all, they are perhaps the most visible of all classes of life. Because of this, they are well-known to humans everywhere — all 129 extinct birds have a common name, for example, which is not the case with other classes of animals.

    If I had studied say insects, people could reasonably say “But there could be thousands and thousands of insects that have gone extinct with nobody noticing.” But there’s no way that thousands and thousands, or even dozens and dozens, of birds and mammals have gone extinct with no one noticing. People notice birds and mammals, so extinction data for them is better than for any other groups.

    In other words, rather than “ignoring” species as you claim, I chose to study these two groups for quite logical reasons, reasons which I explained in the papers I cited.

    Finally, your accusation that I am a “fraud” is … what. Boring. Unpleasant. Unimaginative. Nasty. Unsupported. Uncited. Pathetic. Childish. Vindictive. I don’t know what to call it, I just know that when you get into that kind of puerile insults, you’re no fun to discuss things with …

    w.

  132. Hi Willis, I really love your posts, always a treat! And I would agree with most you wrote above, in response to my post. I also agree that Wiki is not always reliable, but the one I quoted has links for everything, and the links I followed lead back to places like the Red List or US Wildlife Service.
    Here is the link for the Saudi Gazelle at the Red List:

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8974/0

    But I don’t want to argue about individual species. Primarily, my concern is this: Please don’t let people read your post as meaning that the eradication of biodiversity is somehow no big deal.

    And an awed guest in this world, I am, too. Where do you find those words….?

  133. I’m entering this after reading only a few of the comments. Apologies if it has been covered by others. Take a look at Science and Public Policy: The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science by Aynsley J. Kellow. He covers the species extinction scare in detail. It was published late in 2007. If is expensive. There are two fairly detailed favorable reviews at Amazon, and one attack review with lots of reply comments.

  134. Bob says: “are you aware that 99.9999% of all species that ever existed on planet earth have gone extinct.”

    I understand your broader point, but have to call out this particular statement. You’re going to have an awful hard time coming up with concrete evidence for the 99.9999% number. The fossil record certainly does not support anything even close to that kind of percentage. (Hint: the 99.9% number is an assumption/extrapolation used by some folks to support their particular viewpoint on what they think must have occurred in the history of life on Earth.)

  135. trafamadore says:
    January 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.

    You are missing the point. Willis studied mammals and birds because they were the only animals for which reliable data existed. E.O. Wilson claimed a very high rate of extinction due to habitat reduction, and stated that mammals and birds were most vulnerable. Willis showed that only a very small number of mammals and birds went extinct due to habitat reduction.

    Your listing of a bunch of frogs does not answer the request for several reasons:

    1. The discussion was about mammals and birds.
    2. The alleged frogs were native to an island, and island extinctions are not evidence of extinction due to habitat loss.
    3. There is scant evidence that the frog species you listed EVER existed.
    4. The question asked for a list of animals that have gone extinct the last ten years. If those frogs actually ever did exist, they went extinct a long time ago.

  136. “Steve P says: January 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm
    Reality check says:
    January 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm
    SteveP: There is considerable controversy over the actual effect of DDT on eagle populations.[...] Also, ranchers shot eagles
    Yes, some think that leaded gas was the real culprit in eggshell thinning.
    Good point about ranchers and others shooting eagles. That misguided and despicable practice indeed may have played a role in the reduction of eagle populations, but these I think would be mostly Golden, rather than Bald Eagles, which are seldom found in dry country. Beyond that, I doubt hunting or shooting would have played any significant role in the decline of the Peregrine Falcon…”

    Um, why is the peregrine falcon different? Cause it flies high, fast and nests in inaccessible places?
    So you’ve never seen a predator that has just caught a critter, say a chicken? The falcon/hawk/eagle or even the buzzard will spread their wings and try and bluff away other predators; makes it easy for a shotgun used by the chicken’s owner to end the falcon’s time. Sure it looks cool when a falcon takes a bird on the wing, there isn’t always a dumb pigeon flying around when falcons need food.

    Nowadays when one can head down to the store and buy a roast chicken every day if desired, it is hard to imagine times that were/are harder. If you are eking out an existence and once a month or once a week, if your chickens are bountiful, you get to eat fresh chicken. Most of the time you’re eating food you’ve preserved; salt pork, summer sausages, ham (a version of salt pork), dried meat (beef, buffalo, venison, sparrow…). Just because life is easy for some people now, doesn’t mean it will always be easy nor does it mean everyone’s life is easy. It isn’t so long ago that a Presidential slogan was “A chicken for every pot…” Even if Hoover didn’t say it, it was still part of the ad campaign for Hoover.

    Anyway, as you’ve might have guessed by now; people eking out their existence don’t like to share their food with thieves, which is how they view predators stealing some portions. Plus the thieves were rarely choosy and nesting hens were as likely to get caught as tough scrawny old roosters.

    Today’s politically correct scruples are useless when viewing the past or even for prognosticating the future. Willis has laid down the challenge. Where are the bodies? Not just names, where are the bodies. Plus why are they dead? Exactly why? AGW makes a nice for a nice bum rap, but it lacks causality with true chance for redemption. If we don’t have a clue exactly why the critter/plant is in trouble there’s no chance we can man can help.

    The family tree is composed of trunks and branches, all related. species quickly adjust to fit ecological niches. It’s man’s folly to believe any niche is exclusively for certain species.

  137. Two old men, one a Caucasian and the other a Negro operated remote lighthouses on tiny islands. When they retired to the mainland both stations were automated.

    The Red Book recorded the Local Extinction of two sub-species of humans.

    I am beginning to understand how it works. Thanks Willis.

  138. The main point is that E. O. Wilson’s claims are absolutely absurd.

    A sophist knowing that to be true attempts to shift the argument to some detail and vigorously argues about that detail — hoping thereby to bury the central claim under a deluge of obscurantism (deliberate avoidance of clarity or explanation).

    i repeat again the main point is that E. O. Wilson’s claims are absolutely absurd. Willis demonstates that by comparing actual data with Wilson’s claims. It is that simple comparison that the sophist wants at all costs to prevent people from centering on — therefore the deluge of obscurantism.Talk about ANYTHING but the central point that Willis is making — that E. O. Wilson’s claim’s are absolutely absurd.

    Eugene WR Gallun

  139. I am rather surprised that no-one has mentioned the work of that great statistician, Bjorn Lomborg. His Skeptical Environmentalist was, I think, one of the first to really attack Wilson’s ridiculous claims, and he then analysed the IUCN’s data, which showed an annual rate of loss of animal species of about four per annum, and which was unchanged in the last 400 years. The Great Exaggerators rose up en masse, and in a really shameful episode, Scientific American published a counterview and then essentially denied Lomborg the opportunity of rebuttal. Scientific American even threatened to sue Lomborg for infringement of copyright when he quoted long passages of the critical articles in his rebuttal! My personal view is that the whole treatment of the Skeptical Environmentalist by the environmental community was far more shameful than the events leading to the Hockey Stick and Climategate.

  140. S. Meyer says:
    January 25, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    @ WillR
    So the Eastern Cougar is alive in Canada? Glad to hear it. The US Wildlife Service was sure it was not.

    http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/newsreleasefinal.html

    Which confirms how difficult it is to know for sure if a species is extinct. It is easy enough to show a species is stil around (1 sighting is enough), but much harder to say it is not. However, a species like that, blinking in and out of existence (in human view that is), could use some protection, don’t you think?

    All that confirms is that you didn’t read my original paper. In it I said (emphasis mine)

    This study is not about estimated, predicted, or calculated extinctions. It is an analysis of the actual historical record of extinctions, with the purpose of understanding the nature and size of extinctions from historical habitat reduction.

    By extinction I never mean local extinction. I have analyzed total extinctions of species (not subspecies). Local extinction is a separate and valuable study, not covered by this work.

    I am not referring to “almost extinct,” “on the brink of extinction,” or “reportedly extinct.” I am discussing the actual extinction of species as confirmed by the relevant authorities.

    Since the “Eastern Couger” is a sub-species, and according to some cougar experts, perhaps not even that (some say all cougars are one single species), it is not even considered in my analysis … you see the problem with getting your information from Wikipedia?

    Next, could cougars use protection? Not around here, that’s for sure. We have plenty. You want some, we can loan you a pile of them. Should cougars be encouraged to move back into New York? I’d say sure … but there’s lot’s of New Yorkers that might disagree.

    Finally, should we protect cougars because the sub-species is “blinking in and out of existence”? The fact that a species might be at the edge of extinction has always seemed to be a poor reason to protect it. If you have a species that only exists within one area the size of a football field, it may be that nature is trying to tell you something … as Carl Sagan remarked, “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” If you’re gonna oppose all extinctions, you’re gonna have to work lots of overtime and you still won’t succeed.

    w.

  141. thunderloon says:
    January 25, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    “I’d like a T-shirt with “Intellectuals go with what sounds good, Engineers go with what works. Don’t think: test.” on the front and “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” on the back.”

    Very good !

    Or perhaps
    ““Intellectuals go with what feels good, Engineers go with what works” on the front,
    and
    “Don’t excpect, Inspect” on the back ?

  142. John Game says:
    January 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Willis, I am very disappointed by your combative tone. My comments were addressing what you wrote in this article, not everything you may have written in other posts.

    John, if you’re not willing to read the other posts, the posts upon which this latest post rests, why should I discuss it with you? Since you insist on your right to pontificate without reading the source documents, why should I not be combative? You ask for references that have already been given. You ask for facts that have already been explained. You ask how this relates to the other animals. Why should I bother holding your hand and wasting my time and everyone else’s time going back to first grade to explain these basics to you? That’s what the posted links are for.

    See, the problem is, you’ve come in at Chapter 4 in the story. Chapter 1 was the original post, Chapter 2 was the scientific paper, and Chapter 3 was Craig’s post about getting the paper published. I posted links to all three of these in the head post, so people who came in late wouldn’t ask questions that had already been answered.

    But nooooo, you you’re too good to read the first three chapters, you insist on your God-given right to come in during Chapter 4 and start right in giving us the benefit of your extensive wisdom. That’s fine if you know what you are talking about … but in this case you don’t have a clue, because you are unwilling to read the foundation documents.

    And now, you’ve gotten your knickers in a twist because I busted you for not reading the first three chapters. Ask me if I care that you are “disappointed” by my “combative tone”. I took that combative tone deliberately, to try to snap you out of your daze, in the hope that you would be disappointed enough to actually do something … you want to play? You want to discuss things with the adults?

    Then DO YOUR HOMEWORK and read the first three chapters. I’m not going to spoon-feed you, John. I don’t care in the slightest if you like me or not. I’m not trying to be your friend, I have nothing to prove. I’m not going to tickle your tummy and blow in your ear. If you want to participate here, bring your A game, or don’t bother—science is a blood sport.

    w.

  143. No time to read the comments, but as usual, correct Willis!

    Even in Australia the extinction rates are overblown with if I recall correctly from my student days many years ago many species were not really different species at all – died out one place called something else elsewhere. Mitchell I think, or one of the then palaeontologist in England described the common wombat from bones in Wellington Caves as extinct, but note the name common! They were and still are everywhere in eastern Australiaia, just not recognised as the same thing back then. Then there is Burramys parvus, and Leadbeaters Possum, possibly the Parma Wallaby (found again in NZ I believe). Probably others. The extinction of the Australian megafauna is in my opinion at least tied to the first invasion of Australian 40-50 thousand years ago.

    The other side of the coin is extinction opens up habitat for new species – nobody seems to talk about that. As a geologist I recall marine transgressions open up habitats for new species. My be we should hope for the global warming sea level high to introduce all those new habitats and new species!

    Ciao

    John in Milano

  144. No where in the biological world do I see any other species attempting to make the world a better place for other species (symbioses is for selfish gain that also benefits another organism). So I have to ask the question: who or what put humans in charge of assuring biodiversity? Does being the top of the food chain demand that we do this? Is it just hubris?

    I do not have an answer to these questions and would love ot hear what some of you have to say (maybe trafamadore excluded). However, I also argue it is in our self-interest for species survival to assure biodiverisity and stewardship. Earth’s history is filled with calamaties – droughts, ice ages, meteors, et cetera. In the event of a calamity, the more species there are, the better humans’ chances of survival due to our extraordinary ability to exploit food sources. However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low. Aditionally we now create new “species” in the laboratory especially in the cereal grains. What many do not know is such GM species have the effect of decreasing the amount of land needed for farming and can increase the habitats of potentially endangered species.

  145. S. Meyer says:
    January 25, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Willis, I really love your posts, always a treat! And I would agree with most you wrote above, in response to my post. I also agree that Wiki is not always reliable, but the one I quoted has links for everything, and the links I followed lead back to places like the Red List or US Wildlife Service.
    Here is the link for the Saudi Gazelle at the Red List:

    http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8974/0

    Thanks, S. For the reasons detailed in my first post (clear criteria, use of DNA, etc.) I used the CREO exclusively for the mammals. I would have used it for the birds as well, but they haven’t done them, just mammals and fish. Red List has drunk the Koolaid.

    But I don’t want to argue about individual species. Primarily, my concern is this: Please don’t let people read your post as meaning that the eradication of biodiversity is somehow no big deal.

    I couldn’t agree more. Biodiversity is the key. Extinction is a poor metric.

    And an awed guest in this world, I am, too. Where do you find those words….?

    To find the words, I just follow my gut extinct …

    w.

  146. Since you insist on your right to pontificate without reading the source documents, why should I not be combative? You ask for references that have already been given.

    bookmarked

  147. Eric Anderson says:
    January 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Bob says: “are you aware that 99.9999% of all species that ever existed on planet earth have gone extinct.”

    I understand your broader point, but have to call out this particular statement. You’re going to have an awful hard time coming up with concrete evidence for the 99.9999% number. The fossil record certainly does not support anything even close to that kind of percentage. (Hint: the 99.9% number is an assumption/extrapolation used by some folks to support their particular viewpoint on what they think must have occurred in the history of life on Earth.)

    There are about 5 million species on the earth. If that represents 0.0001 of all historical species, that would mean that about 50 billion species have gone extinct. Life has been well established on this planet for about half a billion years. To have lost 50 billion species in that time, we’d only have had to have lost 100 species per year …

    Now, current estimates for extinction are about 1 species per million species per year. With five million species, that would give us about 5 species going extinct per year.

    CONCLUSION: The figure of 99.9999% of all species being extinct is likely an exaggeration, my calculations put it at about 99.8% of all species being extinct.

    THE FINE PRINT: There are a number of assumptions in this, including using an average extinction rate, and assuming that there have been about the same number of species throughout history. Void where taxed or prohibited. No species were driven extinct during the creation of this email.

    w.

  148. Excellent article, Wilis (as always!) As far as I know, the modern flap about accelerated extinction rates started around 1979 with Norman Myers’s book “The Sinking Ark” and some references in the Global 2000 Report to the President in 1980 (would be very interested to know about any earlier instances.)

    Back then, experts thought that 15-20% of all species might be extinct by 2000, but now, of course, they’re talking about 2050, and in 2050 (who knows?) I think it likely they’ll be talking about 2100.

    I’ve just blogged about this myself, by the way, and referenced your “Historical bird and terrestrial mammal extinction rates and causes” paper of 2011:

    http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/extinction-guest-post-by-alex-cull/

  149. Willis: On the IUCN, I have used it since 2003. its difficult to find past data in the IUCN, so I started recording it.

    The IUCN in 2003 stated that 844 species have gone extinct since 1500 (table 3a and b). In the 2008 report, the number was 869. In the 2009 report, its 875. In 2012 it was 795.

    Looks like they found some, doesn’t it?

  150. trafamadman,

    You listed island species only and offered no explanion as to why these frogs are no longer about.

    Philautus halyi was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka. It was last reported sometime in the 19th century.
    Philautus dimbullae was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka.
    Philautus malcolmsmithi was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka and only known to science from the holotype.
    Philautus rugatus was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka.

    I could not be bothered to list the fates of the other frogs, but I do suggest you stop licking toads.

  151. Willis, the case of Southern birch mouse, a continental mammalian (sub)species, once believed to have gone extinct, may have some interest to you.

    Folia Zool. – 57(3): 308–312 (2008)
    New record of Southern birch mouse, Sicista subtilis trizona in Hungary
    Tamás Cserkész and András Gubányi

    No living specimen was seen (by experts!) for 80 years, in a densely populated region of Europe (although hundreds of skull-remains were detected in owl pellets in the meantime, 140 of them in attics of just 2 farm buildings). Anyway, on June 21, 2006 a living specimen was trapped successfully (in a Landscape Protection Area, near Mezőcsát, Hungary), followed by another 42 in the same year. Still, the authors claim “Today, the distribution range of the trizona subspecies has shrunken into only one location, nearing extinction.” Then, in last year it was found “on more locations near the city of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca)”, Transylvania.

  152. Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am
    Gareth Phillips says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

    It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed. On the other hand many species have done well. Big garden bird count next weekend for those who want to get involved.

    I’ve always wondered why it is that folks love catastrophes. Half a catastrophe just won’t do. I do not find a single report saying that there were no mistle thrushes seen in the UK. I see reports that their numbers have decreased by half … but half a catastrophe won’t do.

    w.

    PS—If I were a Mistle Thrush, you wouldn’t find my okole in England, it’s an icebox right now …

    Calm down Willis, what I was trying to say is that some bird species have crashed in the UK, it’s not being a catastrophist, it’s just facts. It happens to lots of birds, though the reasons for this in the UK at least are unclear. Unlike the passenger pigeon. Then again some species have done really well. To me this suggests that there changes and adaptions going on whereby various species adapt, some benefit, other do badly. That’s Darwinian evolution for you. Species doing well never make the news, species reducing in numbers sell papers. From my perspective I’m pleased with the increase in Gold finches and Raptors, pretty spectacular birds, but I’d guess that in a hundred years time their numbers will fall in the face of another trend. By the way, what is an Okole? is it like a Twll Du? I also don’t live in England!

  153. ‘How can you seriously claim that we’re losing dozens and dozens of species per year when there is absolutely no sign of that in the records?’

    Well there is the catch , ‘yet to be classified’ idea that there probable are species which are currently unknown to science , especially insects , so you add in a guess for that have another guess how are going or have gone extinct and you numbers start to look a lot ‘better ‘
    Extinction is and always has been a on going process , you could even argue its required for the evolution of some species, the trick is is to watch the way normal rates of this are placed under ‘man made ‘ as if it where not for human’s actions this would never have happened in the first place. Its the garden of Eden complex .

  154. Garath Phillips: Okole = Hawaian for: hind end, arse, butt and all the other terms that describe the fleshy area of a human/animal between the lower back and the legs. Pronounced: Oh-Koh-Lee. An adopted Hawaian, Noe Noe, taught me that one at an early age as the result of my being a brat to her.

  155. E O Wilson once said: “Mr Lomborg and his kind] are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval.” Lysenko and Zhdanov would be proud of him.

  156. Last year I started to watch a program presented by Andrew Marr on Darwin.
    Marr started the program by stating that we are in the midst of a great extinction. I immediately switched channels. Marr should be ashamed. To start a program on Darwin with a lie is outrageous. But, then, this is standard procedure for the BBC….

  157. Excellent post, as always: good to bring another alarmist scare under the spotlight.

    However it does look as if quite a few other folk were saying much the same a long time back. Bjorn Lonborg’s book, the Skeptical (sic) Environmentalist, has a section on Biodiversity. Under the heading “Check the Data” he cites a number of sources which report findings very different from the headline scare stories. For example, a book by Whitmore & Sayer of 1992 apparently comes up with a figure of 0.08% – much like your comments. Other sources give similar, low figures.

    PS. I have not read through all the posts so apologies if this duplicates someone else’s comment.

  158. albertalad – “Might I comment the wolf became extinct in the US until Canada resupplied in Yellowstone as an experiment. Wolves are still rare in Europe.

    It could be argued that the grey wolf is alive and well worldwide, in the form of domestic dogs.

    http://www.trussel.com/prehist/news24.htm

    “Fido may be cute, cuddly and harmless. But in his genes, he’s a wolf.”

    So, is Canis Familiaris a separate species, or is it really still Canis Lupus? I’m not convinced the answer is simple.

  159. “People are always giving me grief about how I’m not getting with the picture, I’m not following the herd, I’m not kowtowing to the consensus. I have no problem doing that, particularly given my experience regarding extinctions. For years I was the only person I knew of who was making the claim that E. O. Wilson should have stuck to his ants and left extinctions alone. Wherever I looked scientists disagreed with my findings. I didn’t have one person I knew, or one person I read, who thought I was right. Heck, even now, a decade later, the nettle still hasn’t been grasped, people are just beginning to realize that they were fools to blindly believe Wilson, and to try to manage a graceful climb down from the positions they took.”

    Another brilliant article. You do have an instinct for the empirical. So sad that so many in science have lost it. As I have said on occasion, you are the hero of our time. No snark intended. Just thirty years ago the common man and the common Phd held your views. Those views are essential to the health of a democratic republic.

  160. if you were making the claim that it’s raining, wouldn’t you at least look out the ivory windows to see if water were actually falling from the sky?

    Famously, UK legislators passed our punitive bill to curb carbon emissions while it was snowing.

  161. Mr. Eschenbach still thinks that birds and mammals are the only living organisms on Earth.

    Please will you be able to answer some simple questions Mr. Eschenbach:
    – What’s the percentage vertebrates vs. invertebrates?
    – Do you really think that we have described all the living invertebrates on the planet and what their population status is? (We don’t even know the population status for the majority of vertebrates.)
    – What do we know of the invertebrates and the extinction rate in this group?
    – Do you accept that humans are the cause for the decline of many species of vertebrates and invertebrates?
    – Do you also accept that many species of vertebrates are on the edge of becoming extinct and can probably not be saved anymore despite huge conservational efforts?

  162. It’s worse than we thought. Apparently over 98% of species that ever lived are now extinct.

    Reference
    Fichter, George S. (1995). Endangered animals. USA: Golden Books Publishing Company. pp. 5. ISBN 1-58238-138-0.

    Also, new species are being formed today via speciation. Aside from speciation, new species can emerge via hybrid speciation.

    Climate change has always occurred and with it old species die off and new ones emerge. Cut back on deforestation, pollution and over hunting and species will do just fine. Some creatures seem to like a warming planet, like polar bears, whose number have now just gone up while the Arctic sea ice extent shrivels.

  163. I am often reminded about what is probably the greatest extinction comeback kid in history. The coelacanth, which was thought to have been extinct for 65 million years.

  164. “Japanese River Otter…

    The Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) (日本川獺 Nihon-kawauso[1]?) is an extinct variety of otter formerly widespread in Japan. Dating back to the 1880s, it was even seen in Tokyo. The population suddenly shrank in the 1930s, and the mammal nearly vanished. Since then, it has only been spotted several times, in 1964 in the Seto Inland Sea, and in the Uwa Sea in 1972 and 1973. The last official sighting of one was in the southern part of Kochi Prefecture in 1979, when it was photographed in the mouth of the Shinjo River in Susaki. It was subsequently classified as a “Critically Endangered” species on the Japanese Red List,[2] On 28 August 2012, the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct by the Ministry of the Environment.[3][4] On January 10, 2013, dozens of eyewitnesses reported seeing them in Aichi Prefecture.

    Might be too soon for the Otter — they can have some of the otters that splash in the river out back of my house…”

    There haven’t been any confirmed sightings of the Japanese river otter or its droppings anywhere outside of Shikoku (Japan’s fourth largest island) since the end of the Second World War. In the absence of any confirmed sightings anywhere in Japan in over 30 years, it is unlikely that any living individuals of this species exist today, and any otter-like creatures spotted in Aichi Prefecture (in central Honshu) are most likely to be mink or possibly copyu. Both of these exotic species have been confirmed as living feral in Aichi.

  165. Global warming climate change is a species killer indeed. Let’s hope the greening biosphere helps our planets critters and vegetation.

    Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation
    Abstract
    Temperatures in tropical regions are estimated to have increased by 3° to 5°C, compared with Late Paleocene values, during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, 56.3 million years ago) event. We investigated the tropical forest response to this rapid warming by evaluating the palynological record of three stratigraphic sections in eastern Colombia and western Venezuela. We observed a rapid and distinct increase in plant diversity and origination rates, with a set of new taxa, mostly angiosperms, added to the existing stock of low-diversity Paleocene flora. There is no evidence for enhanced aridity in the northern Neotropics. The tropical rainforest was able to persist under elevated temperatures and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast to speculations that tropical ecosystems were severely compromised by heat stress.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/957

    Yet Al Gore told us that global warming is bad and that Co2 is a toxin.

  166. Is it incidental, do you think, that there is very little evidence of species extinction during the Medieval Warm Period, but measurably more during the Little Ice Age? Perhaps hard to separate from the ‘Age of Empire’ that Willis cites.

  167. Great post! I think the problem with a lot of sciences is how to make successful assumptions that are illuminating rather than distorting to our pursuit of understanding. Physicists have been very successful, but other sciences, especially social scientists, have failed. Unfortunately, once the paradigm is set up, though, they are very reluctant to let it go because it would mean excepting all the years they spent on the subject were basically wrong.

    Anywho, I hope to read more of your posts.

    Sincerely,
    Julien Haller

  168. Leg: I think it’s hubris. We preach Darwin, survival of the fittest, and how evolution resulted in “the species we have today” and then turn right around and pretend none of this is true by trying to stop any evolution and removal of the non-fit out there. We declared ourselves God and act accordingly. Yes, it is in our best interest to preserve species as much as practicable. It is not in our interest to return to cave dwelling in an effort to do what Darwin clearly stated was impossible–stop evolution. Species die out, with or without us. And the entire biosphere does not collapse if a species goes extinct. (Strangely, we never seem to mind “intrusive new species” that might use resources a current species needs.) Right now, we want to “freeze” everything into a static condition where NOTHING ever goes extinct, changes, etc. This what we call “fantasy”.

    As for wolves, they were NOT EXTINCT in Yellowstone. They were NOT LIVING THERE at present. This “location extinction” is just flat out stupid. If everyone moves out of a town and there are no people left, are people EXTINCT in that town? Of course not, and to say so is just stupid. Extinct means gone from the face of the earth EVERYWHERE, not moved to a new location. Only politics uses stupid terms like “extinct in this location”. It’s to trick people into believing a lie. Wolves were not living in Yellowstone anymore. There was no extinction involved in any sense whatsoever. If there were, we could not have moved new ones in.

  169. Tim Groves says:
    January 26, 2013 at 5:58 am
    “Japanese River Otter…”

    Confirms Willis. He mentioned extinctions on islands.
    See the range of the European or Eurasian Otter for comparison – goes right across the whole of Eurasia but excludes the Japanese islands.

  170. Leg says: “However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low.”

    Not only Leg, but all of you really have no sense of time or numbers…or what it means to the generations after us. I am from western NY but I never saw a passenger pigeon. (That was their summer breeding ground, in case you didnt know.) Information about the long dead dinosaurs is not only of interest to to us but to non scientists as well, and new answered questions, even the somewhat speculative ones, end up in the news the day after they are talked about.

    It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher. So let take that 100x number and go with it, boys and girls:
    So that means that 1000 per 1000000 are lost and 10 per 1000000 are gained each year, for a net of 990/1000000 lost per year. So that means that a species has a (1000000-990)/1000000 chance of surviving the year, that is, 0.99901 which seems sort of good, right? So in 2 years, that would be 0.99901x 0.0.99901 or 0.998, that is 99.8% still here, not too bad. So let’s do a century, 0.99901^100, we are down to 90% of the species, and after 200 years more, 75% surviving. I guess some people would say not too bad, (those who think the economy is the most important thing in their lives and think Paris is an awful place to visit because they are socialists.)

    Up to now there have been 5 major extinctions on earth, and the combination of habitant loss and AGW–caused by one species, us–is certainly leading to the 6th. So be proud, Leg, it’s no big deal.

  171. All the money that’s to be WASTED mitigating “climate disruption” could be used to create corridors, establish sanctuaries, preserve existing habitat. study and remedy actual endangerment. But no, It will be wasted. CAGW alarmism stands out as the greatest threat to environmentalism and Ecology, IMO.
    Endangered species are more endangered now than they might be. If only Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and WWF didn’t exist, if only.

    (Take note Marxists: The greatest pollution I have heard of in my lifetime is the pollution generated accomplishing the USSR’s “5 year Plans”)

  172. Scientific consensus may not be right on target every time, but it’s the best we’ve got. A few examples of errors and miscalculations does not invalidate the whole system.

  173. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am
    “It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher.”

    Well, read Willis’ post. He mentions exactly those estimates you use, namely Wilson’s assumptions. Wilson’s argument is like yours: Let’s estimate so and so much species go extinct each year, then that and that will happen after so and so many years. Wilson NEVER gives a factual basis for his assumptions.

    See also Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist where this is discussed in length.

    Assuming that the temperature of the Earth rises by one centigrade a year the oceans will start cooking in 90 years! That proves that we must do something NOW! See how this works?

  174. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Leg says: “However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low.”

    Not only Leg, but all of you really have no sense of time or numbers…or what it means to the generations after us. etc.

    Pot, kettle, black — stir words well, arrange in sentences…

    It looks to me like you are making things up. This is the point at which I — and hopefully all others — tune you out and go on with life.

    Cheers.

  175. trafamadore: Please explain the horror of not having seen a passenger pigeon.

    If there were 5 previous great extinctions, caused by something other than one species, why is the possibility of another so horrifying? Do we vilify nature for having the unmitigated gall to have caused 5 previous mass extinctions? Nature did not choose this, you say? It’s value neutral? Sure, you keep telling yourself that.

    If evolution is correct, then our causing a mass extinction is just part of the evolution. If we are space aliens or God made us, then maybe we could be held partially culpable, IF we can prove definitively that our causing an extinction is a bad thing. Again, it happened 5 other times and we had nothing to do with it.

    Why is the extinction of a species, or even many, a crisis? It’s part of nature and that’s obvious from past extinctions. Maybe we can slow the process, but I seriously doubt we can stop it. We are not that powerful, contrary to environmentalists beliefs.

  176. This post has been worth 3 bags of popcorn! Hell, I’ll make it a four bagger!

    Once again the massive numbers (relatively speaking) of supposedly knowledgeable people who fail to do their homework is astonishing. We see Appeal to Authority, Ad Hominum, Appeal to Trust, etc. not to mention, failure to read.

    If one wished to see the end result of much of our progressive schooling, one only has to take a seat a watch the proceedings when Willis posts his observations. He may not always be correct – he has corrected himself in the past – but assuming he doesn’t know what he’s talking about is generally a fools errand and leads to public embarrassment.

    It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts Willis. Long may you live and prosper.

  177. JamesNV says:
    ”John West – that’s an offensive and idiotic comparison.”

    Luckily, I live in a country where it’s not a crime to offend you, yet.

    Yea, you’re right it’s idiotic to compare NASA’s decision to launch while under considerable political pressure to launch and generally perceiving the risk of launching small and the risk of not launching unknown and sometime in the future to the current decision of launching “carbon controls” while under considerable political pressure to do so and generally perceiving the risk of such legislation small and the risk of not controlling “carbon” unknown and sometime in the future. /sarc

  178. trafamadore asserts:

    “…all of you really have no sense…”

    If I was trafamadore’s friend, I would advise him to pick a battle that he can possibly win. But here, he is channeling Custer: he is surrounded by folks who are using facts to slaughter him.

    What trafamadore proposes is that there should never be a species extinction under any circumstances. Once a species appears, trafamidor believes that it must be given the universal right to exist indefinitely.

    But the universe doesn’t work that way. It is actually pretty amazing that so few species go extinct. And when there is a mass extinction, it is always followed by a flood of new species that take advantage of the abandoned niches. Creative destruction leads to more biodiversity, not less.

    So keep arguing your untenable position, trafamadore. We’re enjoying the spectacle of seeing your okole being handed to you. ☺

  179. davidmhoffer says: “trafamadore has failed to answer my question about her and the tigers. Why?”

    Because you only had two choices and I dont like multiple guess Qs. Oh, and it’s irrelevant.

  180. Gareth Phillips says:
    January 26, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Gareth Phillips says:
    January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

    It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed. On the other hand many species have done well. Big garden bird count next weekend for those who want to get involved.

    I’ve always wondered why it is that folks love catastrophes. Half a catastrophe just won’t do. I do not find a single report saying that there were no mistle thrushes seen in the UK. I see reports that their numbers have decreased by half … but half a catastrophe won’t do.

    w.

    PS—If I were a Mistle Thrush, you wouldn’t find my okole in England, it’s an icebox right now …

    Calm down Willis, what I was trying to say is that some bird species have crashed in the UK, it’s not being a catastrophist, it’s just facts.

    Well, Gareth, perhaps that is what you were trying to say. If so, you were totally unsuccessful. Instead of saying that they had “crashed”, which means the population had dropped to half or something, you made a very different claim.

    You claimed that “for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens (emphasis mine).

    If you had said that the population had crashed you’d be spot on. But claiming that for the first time in history there’s not one single Mistle Thrush in any garden in the UK?

    I’m sorry, my friend, but that makes you a catastrophist, not simply someone reporting the facts.

    w.

  181. Robbie says:
    January 26, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Mr. Eschenbach still thinks that birds and mammals are the only living organisms on Earth.

    Oh, excellent, another random anonymous internet popup who believes he can read my mind and tell me what I am thinking.

    Please will you be able to answer some simple questions Mr. Eschenbach:

    Sure. Does that count as one question? Will there be a quiz at the end? Will this affect my grade?

    - What’s the percentage vertebrates vs. invertebrates?

    Nobody knows.

    - Do you really think that we have described all the living invertebrates on the planet and what their population status is? (We don’t even know the population status for the majority of vertebrates.)

    No. Why, do you?

    - What do we know of the invertebrates and the extinction rate in this group?

    Very little.

    - Do you accept that humans are the cause for the decline of many species of vertebrates and invertebrates?

    Sure.

    - Do you also accept that many species of vertebrates are on the edge of becoming extinct and can probably not be saved anymore despite huge conservational efforts?

    Depends on what you call “many”. However, the point you seem to be missing is this:

    There was NEVER, ever a time in the history of the planet when “many species of vertebrates” were NOT “on the edge of becoming extinct”. Never. That’s how nature works. As Carl Sagan said, “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception”. You appear to think it’s the other way around.

    w.

  182. @ RobRoy

    “RobRoy says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:21 am
    All the money that’s to be WASTED mitigating “climate disruption” could be used to create corridors, establish sanctuaries, preserve existing habitat. study and remedy actual endangerment. But no, It will be wasted. CAGW alarmism stands out as the greatest threat to environmentalism and Ecology, IMO.”

    Well said! I could not agree more.

    I would also agree with many others who have pointed out that we cannot and should not even try to preserve every single species. That would be a fool’s errand. Nature is in a constant state of flux, and I think our desire to keep things as they are comes directly from our fear and awareness of our own death. The loss of a species is also not a tragedy just because that particular species is cuddly or beautiful. 

    The real problem, in my view, is, as Willis pointed out, the loss of diversity. If we lose too many species too quickly, we will have impoverished ourselves. In that regard I think we need to take a close look at the situation, without hysteria or a political agenda. There are things we can and should do now. One proposal I read about is to establish DNA banks for future use.

    http://www.enotes.com/dna-banks-endangered-animals-reference/dna-banks-endangered-animals

  183. Reality check says: “If evolution is correct, then our causing a mass extinction is just part of the evolution. If we are space aliens or God made us, then maybe we could be held partially culpable, IF we can prove definitively that our causing an extinction is a bad thing. Again, it happened 5 other times and we had nothing to do with it.”

    Again, you seem to have no sense of time. What happens if in a 1000 years, a blink of time, we are down to some low percentage of species, perhaps including us, perhaps not. Do you have an ideal of how long it takes to recover? You measure it in 10’s of millions of years. A time most of us really cant get our heads around. You are right that the earth might survive and recover. But it is not a sure thing that we will be here to witness it.

  184. Steve P says:
    ”The Native American bison or buffalo, is a good example of a creature that was almost extirpated by methodical slaughter, but which lumbers on today in greatly reduced numbers.”
    __________________________________________________

    Well, that’s the narrative, but I’m not so sure it’s true.

    “Approximately 60 million Bison roamed North America when Europeans discovered it.” http://www.conservenature.org/learn_about_wildlife/prairie/bison.htm

    “In August 1963, 18 bison were transported from the holding facility and released approximately 25 km north of Fort Providence. Two animals died soon after. The 16 survivors founded the Mackenzie bison population, which increased to 2,400 animals by 1989.”

    http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/documents/content/wood_bison_management_strategy.pdf

    So, that’s about a 20% growth rate.

    “In 1871 several thousand hunters were in the field and it is estimated that from 3,000 to 4,000 buffaloes were killed daily.” http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/b/buffalo.html

    Kills at around peak were about 4000/day = 1.5 million/year.
    @ About 60,000,000 bison w/ 20% growth rate = about 12,000,000 bison born each year above natural deaths.
    For 4000 kills/day to keep up with new calves, the growth rate would have had to be a mere 2.5% or so.
    “Joel Berger and Steven L. Cain wrote about the disease Brucellosis and how bison spread it. Bison carry the disease and if released from reserves, will be exposing it to livestock. Brucellosis is a disease that causes abortion in livestock and is often transmitted through bison’s expelled fetuses or birth fluids:

    If Brucellosis affects the timing of parturition, then the temporal distribution of births should vary between populations with and without the disease, perhaps because infected females [cattle] may abort or are likely to recycle at other times of the year. Comparisons of the slopes of regression of the onset of parturition and the cumulative proportion of births developed for each population substantiate the existence of interpopulation variation. (362)

    Included in this research is a chart to visually explain the number of infected cattle both exposed to buffalo regions and separate from them. For instance, in Texas, away from roaming bison, the number of successful pregnancies and births of cattle is nearly double that of most public park regions, where bison are abundant. Still, the number in most public park regions is near double those that are near Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.”
    – Reproductive Synchrony in Brucellosis-Exposed Bison in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and in Noninfected Populations

    ”Transmission occurred between cattle and bison, and bison and bison.”
    Foot-and-mouth disease in North American bison (Bison bison) and elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni): susceptibility, intra- and interspecies transmission, clinical signs, and lesions.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18436660

    Brucellosis is found in modern Bison populations.
    Brucellosis reduces a populations overall birthrate.
    FMD has a 5-50% mortality rate in domestic herds.
    FMD reduces milk output & pregnancy rates.
    FMD survivors are weakened, a precarious state in the wild.

    IMHO: Without FMD, Brucellosis, and probably other diseases drastically reducing both the number of Bison and their ability to reproduce, hunters would have had difficulty denting the Bison herd let alone all but decimating it.

    My gut tells me we would have had a hard time manufacturing enough ammo to dent the bison population without the diseases doing the heavy lifting.

  185. Thanks Willis, I stand condemned as a catastrophist, I rendeth mine garments. I should have said they are rapidly disappearing from gardens, the headline I saw and quoted was not supported by the other reports which said it would be gone from our leafy gardens in the very near future. Here’s a few links you may wish to follow which details the situation for the ‘staggering ‘rate of decline of Mistle thrushes http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2268080/Wildlife-experts-sound-warning-disappearing-mistle-thrush-urge-public-help-survey-UK-garden-birds.html, and http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/21143664 . It appears the annoying beast has halved it’s numbers since the early 70s This is confirmed by that other bunch of catastrophists, the BTO and RSPB. Am I an alarmist (or Catastrophist ) for suggesting other species are on the increase? or does it only work in one direction? Always great to debate with you Willis, the words ‘herding’ and ‘cats’ springs to mind on such occasions. Cheers G

  186. D.B. Stealey says:”What trafamadore proposes is that there should never be a species extinction under any circumstances.”

    Um. Ms. or Mr. Facts, could you pls document what you foolishly say?

  187. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Leg says: “However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low.”

    Not only Leg, but all of you really have no sense of time or numbers

    Dang … I guess that means the dance is off, Leg…

    It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher. So let take that 100x number and go with it, boys and girls:

    You’re so cute when you “forget” to cite your claims, tralfie. Since that “100x” number has no support except for your propensity to make wild statement, I’m sorry, but I won’t “take that number and go with it.” Anyone who believes numbers based on your unsupported word is … well, let me just call them unaware of your history and headed for disappointment.

    10 species going extinct per year should mean about 11 bird and mammal extinctions on all of the continents of the planet. We’ve seen 9 … so for the continents of the planet, which cover about 95% of the land area, sadly, your “100x” claim is 100x wrong. Current extinction rates (except on the islands and Australia) are indistinguishable from geological extinction rates.

    Wasn’t someone just talking about lacking a sense of numbers? Who was that, anyhow?

    w.

  188. Human says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Scientific consensus may not be right on target every time, but it’s the best we’ve got. A few examples of errors and miscalculations does not invalidate the whole system.

    I’m not concerned about a scientific consensus. It’s the anti-scientific consensus that has coalesced around carbon alarmism that concerns me. If it were a scientific consensus, that wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, the science content in their claims is often … well … slim or none.

    w.

  189. trafamadore says:

    “…could you pls document what you foolishly say?”

    Of course I can.

    You specifically stated that all species are “equal”. If your position is that the human species should not go extinct, then your position is ipso facto that no species should go extinct.

    Rational discourse is not your strong point, is it?

  190. trafamadore: I understand time just fine. What I do not understand is the arrogance that says we human beings are entitled so every time speck of time and space this earth has from our appearance forward. We missed the dinosaurs, we missed the ice ages, and we will miss things in the future. If we are gone, animals do not have a sense of time and recovery periods are irrelevant. Honestly, recovery periods are irrelevant even if we are around. We do not dictate time and space. Do you get that?????

  191. Gareth Phillips says:
    January 26, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Thanks Willis, I stand condemned as a catastrophist, I rendeth mine garments. I should have said they are rapidly disappearing from gardens, the headline I saw and quoted was not supported by the other reports which said it would be gone from our leafy gardens in the very near future.

    Thanks, Gareth. While just a little exaggeration such as you made is not that great a deal, you need to multiply it by a million folks each just exaggerating as you did, and we end up with Chicken Little saying the sky is falling. After a couple of decades of people claiming that 2 is 4 and that cutting something in half is the same as there being not one Mistle Thrush in the UK, I’ve had it up to here with folks being at ease with, and even defending, these exaggerations and misrepresentations as just something small.

    What happened was, you read a hysterical headline, and you REPEATED IT WITHOUT THINKING. You talk as though that is a small thing. It is not. It is one of the reasons we are in the fix we are in today, because millions of folks like you repeat nonsensical claims without thinking once about whether they are true or not.

    Here’s a few links you may wish to follow which details the situation for the ‘staggering ‘rate of decline of Mistle thrushes http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2268080/Wildlife-experts-sound-warning-disappearing-mistle-thrush-urge-public-help-survey-UK-garden-birds.html, and http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/21143664 . It appears the annoying beast has halved it’s numbers since the early 70s This is confirmed by that other bunch of catastrophists, the BTO and RSPB.

    You mean that populations of birds change year to year, decade to decade, and century to century? The nerve of the critters, why didn’t someone tell me? Someone please let them know that they should be the same every year, decade after decade.

    Am I an alarmist (or Catastrophist ) for suggesting other species are on the increase? or does it only work in one direction?

    Good question, no answer.

    Always great to debate with you Willis, the words ‘herding’ and ‘cats’ springs to mind on such occasions. Cheers G

    The web is a zoo, you get a choice of critters if you fancy herding …

    All the best, Gareth.

    w.

    PS—Your citation does provide some good news, in that the population of starlings in the UK is declining as well …

  192. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 9:39 am
    davidmhoffer says: “trafamadore has failed to answer my question about her and the tigers. Why?”
    Because you only had two choices and I dont like multiple guess Qs. Oh, and it’s irrelevant.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Oh it is relevant and you darn well know it (not to mention that there were three choices not two).

    The fact of the matter is that when it becomes personal, when it becomes YOUR life that is on the line, you’d want those tigers dead, extinction be d@mned. If you say otherwise, you are a liar. Nobody would willingly die to save another species from extinction.

    You didn’t answer because doing so reveals the truth. You’re fine being all altruistic until the consequences are personal. You’re fine with all the moral arguments about the sanctity of life and how we should care for the planet and respect other species until it is YOU that has to pay the price. As long as the people who starve to death or freeze to death are a long way away where you don’t have to see them die, far away where you can pretend they don’t even exist let alone suffer the consequences of your policies, that’s OK. But as soon as it is YOU that has to suffer, when it is YOU that has to die, then suddenly it is “irrelevant”.

    You are nothing but a selfish hypocrite attempting to pass themselves off as altruistic and humanitarian, but when it is YOU that may suffer, you won’t even answer the question.

    I’d shoot the tigers in a heartbeat, it would never cross my mind that there was any choice in the matter. It saddens me that were the situation reversed, I have no confidence that you would do the right thing.

  193. Trafamadore, your cause for alarm contains too many ifs. Around these parts, we have a saying that, “If grasshoppers carried six-shooters, they wouldn’t have to be worried about bluejays.”

    Humans causing the sixth wave of extinction? Please present the proof for that. We are all awaiting the evidence.

  194. dp says:
    January 25, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Swingin’ Richard – now there’s a keeper.

    Thanks, dp. I always like it when someone enjoys the bits of humor and allusion that I tend to scatter about …

    w

  195. @davidimhoffer
    “trafamadore;
    Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you. Suppose that your only hope is me, because I’m the only person anywhere near who can do anything about the situation, and luckily I have a loaded rifle and know how to use it. For future reference as I will have only seconds to consider my actions should such a situation occur at some point in the future, would you like me to:

    a) shoot the tigers
    b) shoot you
    c) stand by and let nature take its course”

    Strange that I should feel the need to come to trafamadore’s defense again, today! But, David, this is really not a fair argument. I suppose that there is something you care about deeply? Let’s say that “something” would be that “there is no such thing as global warmin”g? And now, imagine the hypothetical situation that you could end the whole global warming hysteria by immolating yourself in public…. Would you do it? Of course not, and neither would I. But would that make you a hypocrite? Would that make your concern less valid? You would be a hypocrite only if you asked other people to die for that thing you feel strongly about. I have not heard trafamadore do that.

    One reason I have been frequenting this blog recently is that you can find a lot of posts here which focus on science, rather than demagoguery. Please, please, can we keep it that way?

  196. Yep. starling populations are falling, as well as sparrows, but magpies, goldfinches, robins( the real ones) are all on the way up. What I wanted to point out before were sidetracked on the mistle thrush issue is that birds in the UK are having some interesting swings in population. As Willis points out, populations do vary, but these are varying in a way not previously recorded, though that is not to say these thing may not have happened prior to records being taken. There are theories as to why this is happening , but most ornithological sources say the wildly swinging populations stats are real. However Buzzards in the UK were almost extinct when I was young, they are now the most common raptor seen in our countryside. It was claimed that DDT was the reason for their decline, but the correlation is not strong.
    In New Zealand there is a parrot called a Kia. An amusing and very intelligent bird that is endangered. Mainly due to bounties being paid on the bodies when they were thought of as a pest. They cadge scraps from tourists who occasionally feed them and are admonished and warned not to interfere with their natural behaviour ( as if we already had not done so) The populations remains low.
    In Wales we have a bird called a red kite. It was in the same position for similar reasons. We were told, stop shooting it and feed it whenever you get the opportunity, which is what we did. It has now been restored to good health and birds are used to colonise other areas.
    Both birds adapted to humans. They were endangered by us, but adapted to use us as a resource. The Red Kites have been allowed to do so, the Kia is prevented from doing so. The Red Kite does well, the Kia remains endangered. So while we may or may not be responsible for extinctions or wildly swinging populations, it does irk when governments stop organisms like the Kia and Red Kite adapting to humans and recovering in their own way. Perhaps what we do is not exterminate species, but prevent their adaption due to our own views of how they should exist.
    While some adaptions are not possible (Tigers preying on humans for instance) most should be ok as long as we allow them to adapt and evolve as needed.

  197. D.B. Stealey says:”You specifically stated that all species are “equal”. If your position is that the human species should not go extinct, then your position is ipso facto that no species should go extinct.”

    Where did I say that the human species should not go extinct? I think you are a little confused.

  198. John West says:
    January 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

    OK John, I’ll play.

    Can you provide any evidence or historical accounts of a massive die-off of Buffalo toward the end of the 19th century that has been attributed to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), or any other disease?

    Your source claims that ““In 1871 several thousand hunters were in the field and it is estimated that from 3,000 to 4,000 buffaloes were killed daily.”

    That’s an average of about one buffalo per hunter per day in 1871 in whatever field was being described, but some of the hunters were rather better at killing bison. Here’s what Buffalo Bill did one day:

    The buffaloes were quite plenty, and it was agreed that we should go into the same herd at the same time and “make a run,” as we called it, each one killing as many as possible. A referee was to follow each of us on horseback when we entered the herd, and count the buffaloes killed by each man. The St. Louis excursionists, as well as the other spectators, rode out to the vicinity of the hunting grounds in wagons and on horseback, keeping well out of sight of the buffaloes, so as not to frighten them, until the time came for us to dash into the herd; when they were to come up as near as they pleased and witness the chase.

    At last the time came to begin the match. Comstock and I dashed into a herd, followed by the referees. The buffaloes separated; Comstock took the left bunch and I the right. My great forte in killing buffaloes from horseback was to get them circling by riding my horse at the head of the herd, shooting the leaders, thus crowding their followers to the left, till they would finally circle round and round. On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast, until I had killed thirty-eight; which finished my run.

    Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd, which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together. I had “nursed” my buffaloes, as a billiard-player does the balls when he makes a big run.
    Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)

    There are numerous historical accounts of the slaughter, and opinions about it, but my gut won’t allow me to post any more right now. Nevertheless, whatever the cause of their demise, I would repeat my closing question from above. If the 60+ million buffalo were alive today, where would they live?

    atheok says:
    January 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Um….

    Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was banned.

    One of my first red flags about CAGW and the CO2 scare was my impression that the environmental movement was being hijacked by the climate alarmists. To repeat what I’ve said, I think it was a good article by Willis, especially because it has generated some discussion that may play a small role in helping the environmental movement get back on track.

    Finally, I had a gut extinction of my own late last year thanks to the GII 4 Sydney strain of norovirus.

  199. As Carl Sagan said, “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception”. You appear to think it’s the other way around.

    Exactly! May I also add the word evolution.

  200. S. Meyer;
    One reason I have been frequenting this blog recently is that you can find a lot of posts here which focus on science, rather than demagoguery. Please, please, can we keep it that way?
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The alarmists are proposing draconian measures that would sentence billions to lives of misery and death. They do on the backs of science that simply does not stand up to scrutiny, this thread being a fine example. Politics, science, and economics are inextricably intertwined. That’s the reality of the way the world actually works. Deal with it.

  201. S. Meyer;
    You would be a hypocrite only if you asked other people to die for that thing you feel strongly about. I have not heard trafamadore do that.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Because you look at her arguments in isolation, you do not consider the broader consequences. Then you call ME a demagogue. LOL.

  202. Hi Willis and:
    John West says:
    January 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

    – a bit on extinct Buffalo in Yukon Territory:

    “Recent interviews with First Nation elders in southeastern Yukon also support the assumption of bison still being present in the Ross River and Liard area last century, with the last bison disappearing early this century (1900s)”

    http://www.yfwcm.ca/mgmtplans/bisonplan/history.php

    Not in the report above: It is anecdotal there were a few buffalo in the Carmacks area of central Yukon noted by gold rush visitors but it was reported that they had disappeared, probably after a few severe winters with deep snow.

    In 1970, while in a prospecting camp on an island in the Snag River (island because of the abundance of Grizzly bears) just east of the Kluane Range in southwestern Yukon, my map work was interrupted by a helicopter landing on the island. I quickly rolled up my map and put away aerial photos to ensure competitors wouldn’t surmise what my plans were and went out to greet my guest – a big, hearty, red-headed bushy fellow who indeed was with a competing exploration party. He was a young fellow from the Netherlands and he was in a great excited state – I thought there must have been an accident. He motioned me to climb aboard and as I buckled in he said he had run into a large herd of Muskoxen. I assured him that they most likely were not Muskoxen this far south. A few minutes later, airborne, we spotted the herd – it was a couple of dozen buffalo with their winter wool coming off in skeins and decorating the buck brush. They looked fat and healthy and, of course, I realized we were in the “no snow” shadow on the east side of the Kluanes – no buffalo conservation park was this. I reported their presence by radio to the Yukon Forest Service at the time and they assured me that it was probably a “couple of moose”. I’m not sure what their status is a present but I note that the Yukon government website above doesn’t mention them today. Where I was was a pretty unbeaten track in those days. It seems that the people who look after our “biodiversity” do it largely from airconditioned offices.

  203. Steve P says:
    “That’s an average of about one buffalo per hunter per day in 1871 in whatever field was being described, but some of the hunters were rather better at killing bison.”

    The answer is in the question. Buffalo Bill didn’t go hunting 365 days/year. When he went hunting he killed a lot of buffalo, but when he didn’t he killed a lot of whiskey bottles or whatever he was into; hence the average.

    ” Can you provide any evidence or historical accounts of a massive die-off of Buffalo toward the end of the 19th century that has been attributed to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), or any other disease?“

    Short answer: Nope. (Darn it)

    Long answer: Exposure to European diseases would have started much earlier than late 19th century. Lewis and Clarke knew they were back to civilization when they saw domestic cattle instead of buffalo , so exposure to cattle on the fringes of their range was occurring at least by the early 19th century and probably much earlier than that. Also, not just “die offs” but a pronounced reduction in reproductive ability being a major mechanism for a ~60 million herd with potentially a 20% annual growth rate to not be able to out produce some additional ~1.5 million losses per year. (Assuming these estimates are in the ball-park.)

    Thanks for playing.

    What I could really use is some evidence of munitions production during the period, but haven’t been able to scrounge anything yet. That might give me a clue, yea or nay.

  204. Willirs says: “Since that “100x” number has no support except for your propensity to make wild statement, I’m sorry, but I won’t “take that number and go with it.” Anyone who believes numbers based on your unsupported word is”

    Mmmm. Let’s see. The background extinction rate for most groups is like 5 in a million/year, I used 10 because it was easier to do the calculations. But, for mammals (thinking birds too, someone should check) the number is lower, something like 1/M/yr. (Mammal/birds are harder to kill off I guess.) So there are what, 5000 species of animals and some 100 have gone extinct in the last 200 years, a time when you would expect 200*5000/1000000 extinctions, which happens to be 1. So there is my 100X. Or we can do the calc for birds. There are about 200 extinct in the last 200 years and there are about 10000 species, so you would expect 200×10000/1000000, which happens to be 2. So there is my 100x again. So we can play with the numbers back and forth, but you really arent going to change that number much.

    Island argument for extinctions has been around for a long while, but what is hurting now is the amazing lost of habitant on the continents, thus creating a new kind of “islands”, ecological ones, and as those islands disappear, the species do too. Superimpose on that the fact that we dont know the complete scale of loss of insect and other invertebrates, some of which have habitants that had only a few acres in the Amazon to start with, many we don’t even know exist. So when Eldredge or Wilson come up with these numbers–what are they, 2000-3000 species per year?–it’s based on 10,000,000 species that used to loose 30 species a yr now at a new extinction rate 100x greater, a pretty sad situation, but their logic seems reasonable. There was a article in Nature last week that argued those 2000-3000 numbers should be a little lower, but not allot.

    I think Wills isnt looking for the bodies in the right place…he needs to be on his hands and knees in the Tropics, home to most of the Earth’s species.

    And, what happens to this extinction rate if the Earth’s temperature goes up? Most biologist dont believe it will go down.

  205. @ Gary Pearse

    I guess the whole question of whether a successful species can be overharvested to extinction boils down to the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns for me. At some point, the energy/money one puts into finding that last herd of buffalo way up in the Yukon is more than one could possibly get out of it. This of course doesn’t work if the price just goes up to match the scarcity for irreplaceable substances perceived to have some medicinal or magical benefit.

  206. S. Meyer says:
    January 26, 2013 at 11:44 am

    @davidimhoffer
    “trafamadore;
    Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you….. But, David, this is really not a fair argument….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Actually it is. Only in my case it is coyotes… This is a friend of my Brother-in-law link My next door neighbor lost his entire heard of goats, another friend a herd of sheep and Pat, a third friend lost all her calves. It is no longer safe to leave the house without a gun especially at dawn and dust in my area. Coyotes are not the only predators around either. Around here there are mountain lions, red wolves (released) melanistic jaguars (released) and of course bear, bobcats and red and gray fox. (Note the release of the jaguar (in Florida) was on the internet at the site linked but has been wiped. There was also the report of a pair to be release sighted at a rest area in the Smokies.)

    As far as the cats go we are told we are seeing things, the eastern cougar/mountain lion is extinct, there are no black melanistic jaguar Yadi ya… OOPS Mountain lion killed in Conn. had walked from S. Dakota I guess the wild life boys can not deny this one. Since it is illegal to shoot them it is Shoot, Shovel and Shut-up so no concrete evidence is ever seen by ‘officials’

  207. atheok says:
    January 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Um….

    Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was ban….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The chicken farmers quit shooting falcons because they quit raising them free range and instead they raise them in commercial chicken houses Something like 80% – 90% of all American chicken (and pork) are raise in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. (CAFO)

  208. “Steve P says: January 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    …Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was banned.

    One of my first red flags about CAGW and the CO2 scare was my impression that the environmental movement was being hijacked by the climate alarmists. To repeat what I’ve said, I think it was a good article by Willis, especially because it has generated some discussion that may play a small role in helping the environmental movement get back on track…”

    SteveP: Yah! When it becomes a Federal crime with major financial penalties, shooting birds of prey, carrion birds and others (like seagulls) stopped getting shot, mostly. Funny thing, it was right at the same time that the Federal poison bait campaign against coyotes ended.

    Excellent post about Buffalo Bill and his experience was not the only one. Bat Masterson and his brother initially tried their hands at being mule skinners and went into sheriff work as a preferred alternative to skinning buffalo, all day in the hot sun. Many unemployed and out of work miners sought to become buffalo hunters with deadly results to the buffalo. http://www.nanations.com/buffalo/southern_herd.htm as a source; even if this source does have an opinion about buffalo.

    and I agree Steve; it is an excellent article by Willis. And your posts are supportive and informative. I wanted to highlight the differences between the mores of yesterday and today and your post offered the opportunity.

    I was a woods and mountain hiker back in the sixties and seventies and between the outdoors, assisting a farmer and trying to raise my own food I was considered a far left wacko. Odd how the harder the work is, the less people think of you… Somewhere in the 1990s – new millenium, the eco-nuts moved the left goalpost so that friends now consider me conservative. and yes, hijacked the environment movement is an excellent description for it.

    My parents were great depression era children. One of my bosses told me about when he was young, chicken for dinner was a rare and special event. He was in his teens before they had a turkey for thanksgiving dinner. I felt that my youth was privileged compared to his and he was less than a decade older. When I was young, wasting food was considered a heinous act by my parents and some of that has stayed with me. I may be conservative to others, but I do know what it takes to put beef, chickens, rabiits, and so on onto the kitchen table. Back then, I knew what they ate and I knew what I was eating.

    Raise some chickens, rabbits, quail, pheasant, turkey, duck, goose and so on, for food when the alternative may be (has been) beans or potatoes and it gets personal real quick when predators help themselves to the food. a farmer friend once told me that obviously I needed to raise enough for both my family and the wild predators. That was well after the beans or potatoes period of my life and I was able to laugh. Wasn’t so funny to me before that.

    If you’ve ever read Carlos Castenada’s work, you’ll encounter a part in one of his books, (“Journey to Ixtlan” comes to mind, but I may mis-remember,) where he describes his youth and how he hunted hawks extensively during one period of his life. Before killing hawks became illegal, it was considered a valid activity; especially for hawks big enough to take domestic animals.

    Wasn’t wrong then, just isn’t right now.

  209. Gail Combs;
    Actually it is. Only in my case it is coyotes… This is a friend of my Brother-in-law link My next door neighbor lost his entire heard of goats, another friend a herd of sheep and Pat, a third friend lost all her calves.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    That is the part that the trafamadores and S Meyer’s of the world don’t seem to grasp. It isn’t just that your neighbours lost goats, sheep and calves. It is also that there was less food for human beings as a consequence. The trafamadores of the world don’t get this because they walk into a grocery store any day of the week and the shelves are stocked with food. It never occurs to them that there are places in the world where that simply isn’t true. The western world has enough money to stock those shelves, the third world doesn’t. We live in a global economy and the fact of the matter is that those lost goats, sheep and calves meant that there was less food somewhere in the world, at higher prices, and people went hungry and perhaps died as a consequence.

    Every time a tract of land is set aside to protect come species from extinction, that is a tract of land that no longer is being farmed, and for people in the world on the edge of starvation, that means that some of them get pushed over the edge.

    I’m not arguing against protecting endangered species, far from it. But at the same time a coyote with a full belly of lamb means a baby dying in its mother’s arms somewhere else in the world. That’s the harsh reality that people like tramafadore casually dismiss. As long as they don’t SEE that baby die, they can pretend it doesn’t happen and that they don’t have anything to do with the misery of others. All they can see is the full shelves when they walk into the grocery store.

    Worse, the best way to protect the environment is to do what the western world has done. Raise living standards through the use of cheap energy. Birth rates fall and pressure on the world’s resources falls accordingly. Keep people in poverty, particularly energy poverty, and their birth rate sky rockets, meaning more pressure on earth’s resources, more mouths to feed, and less land left over for the wild life to remain wild. When push comes to shove though, if there isn’t enough food to go around and choices have to be made between feeding humans and letting them starve…. even tramafadore understands she’s rather eat than be eaten, she just doesn’t want to admit it.

  210. Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

    “PS—Your citation does provide some good news, in that the population of starlings in the UK is declining as well …”

    I can corroborate that. Because they’ve all migrated to my house. I estimate the colony to be 1000+. Every evening, They take over a thicket of cat-tails on my property, not as a dormitory but as a meeting place. A European Starling Woodstock-style convention. They carry on all night with every birdcall possible as they are great parrot-like imitators. They take great entertainment in my occasional evening walks, as I am met with every catcall ,tweet, , twitter and whistle imaginable. Much like Willis faces when he posts an article here.

  211. Canman says (January 25, 2013 at 7:55 pm): “Hey WUWTers, did you know there’s a YouTube presentation of this?”

    Whoa, great catch! Thanks, Canman!

  212. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Willis says:

    “Since that “100x” number has no support except for your propensity to make wild statement, I’m sorry, but I won’t “take that number and go with it.” Anyone who believes numbers based on your unsupported word is”

    Mmmm. Let’s see. The background extinction rate for most groups is like 5 in a million/year, I used 10 because it was easier to do the calculations.

    Do you truly not understand the concept of a citation? I busted your last numbers because it “has no support” … so you come back with another unsupported statement. Brilliant.

    Then you admit that you DOUBLED THE EXTINCTION RATE, not increased it by a few percent but doubled it, because you were too lazy to do the calculations … stunning.

    Also, perhaps you don’t realize it, but we are discussing a paper about extinction rates. It claims that the highest estimate of extinction rates is the estimate you used …

    What you may not have noticed is that I showed evidence, not theory but historical evidence, that their highest extinction rate, the one that you claim we should use, is orders of magnitude too large. I’ll repeat it so you can read it, although I’m not sure that will help, since what I really need is for you to understand it rather than read it.

    So they give their calculations assuming a 1% decadal extinction rate. Here’s the problem. That’s no more believable than Wilson’s 2.7% per decade rate. There are about 3,300 mammal species living on the continents (excluding Australia). If we assume that one percent of them go extinct per decade, that would mean that we should be seeing about 33 continental mammal extinctions per decade. It’s worse for birds, a 1% extinction rate for birds would be about 80 continental birds per decade. We have seen absolutely nothing even vaguely resembling that. That’s only slightly below Wilson’s estimate of a 2.7% extinction rate, and is still ridiculously high.

    Instead of 33 mammals and 80 birds going extinct on the continents per decade, in the last 500 years on the great continental landmasses of the world, we’ve only seen three mammals and six birds go extinct. Only nine continental mammal and bird species are known to have gone extinct in 500 years. Three mammals and six birds in 500 years, that’s less than one continental mammal extinction per century, and these highly scientific folks are claiming that 30 mammals and 80 birds are going extinct per decade? … once again I’m forced to ask, where are the corpses?

    So if you want to continue with your ludicrous claim that the extinction rate is 1%, you’ll have to show why what I posted is wrong. You don’t get to just grab a number because you like it. Your 100x number still has no support at all.

    w.

  213. trafamadore says (January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm): “I think Wills isnt looking for the bodies in the right place…he needs to be on his hands and knees in the Tropics, home to most of the Earth’s species.”

    In other words, Trenb–er, trafamadore is saying “The fact is we can’t account for the missing bodies at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

    Maybe the bodies are “in the pipeline”?

    No, wait, the missing bodies are in the “deep layer” of the oc–er, jungle. Yeah, that’s it.

  214. This news article may be of interest.

    The photo marks only the fourth confirmed Illinois sighting of a cougar – also known as a mountain lion, panther, puma or catamount – since the cats were driven from Illinois in the 1870s.
    [...]
    Today, stories of young males wandering east and south from the Dakotas to states like Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri are relatively common. Missouri regularly reports cougar sightings, although conservation officials in Missouri say no known breeding populations have been established.

    In 2011, a young male from the Black Hills of South Dakota made it as far as Connecticut.

    http://www.pjstar.com/news/x2053816328/Cougar-photographed-on-trail-in-central-Illinois

    White-tailed deer populations began to increase along the Illinois River and surrounding prairie in the late 1980s or so, in about the same time frame when Bald Eagles began to return to the Illinois River Valley in winter. Now Illinois reportedly hosts more wintering Bald Eagles than any state outside Alaska.

    ~

    So far, I haven’t heard any ideas about how chicken farmer plinking, or rancher shooting of raptors also managed to weaken the egg-shells of those that weren’t shot. Brown Pelican eggshells were affected as well, so maybe disgruntled fishermen were shooting them too with those same magic bullets.

  215. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Island argument for extinctions has been around for a long while, but what is hurting now is the amazing lost of habitant on the continents, thus creating a new kind of “islands”, ecological ones, and as those islands disappear, the species do too.

    Certainly, then, it should be no problem for you to provide the names of say half a dozen species of birds and mammals that have been lost in “islands” on the continents as you claim?

    trafamadore, you believe this without evidence. It sounds logical. Wilson said it was true, and he fooled hundreds of folks like you, so it’s no shame, just time to give it up.

    It’s what was believed for years. It makes sense. Scientists said it was true. But the problem is, despite the claims of the scientists, the Emperor has no clothes—there is not a scrap of evidence to back up the claims of huge extinctions, of a “Sixth Wave”, of extinctions on “islands” that you fantasize about. I know there is no evidence, because I’ve looked very hard. Nine extinctions on the continents in 500 years, none of them from “islands” as you state. As a result, your claim is totally falsified by the actual evidence.

    Now it’s possible that the CREO or the Red LIst or I missed some extinctions. But if you think that’s true, then either come up with the names of some corpses from your fanciful “ecological islands” or put this bogus nonsense to rest. In other words, as they say, “put your money where your mouth is”—come up with some corpses, or admit that you don’t have any and thus your marvelous theory has no foundation in fact.

    w.

  216. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm
    … But, for mammals (thinking birds too, someone should check) the number is lower, something like 1/M/yr. (Mammal/birds are harder to kill off I guess.) …
    ——————————————–
    Willis titled this post ‘Always trust your gut instinct’. I don’t generally have the balls to do that outside of my own field of expertise. I do however get awfully suspicious when I’m presented with an inconsistent case.

    From Willis’s original ‘Where are the corpses?':
    “Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995)”

    Yet here you are, after lauding Wilson and arguing that Wilson knows a whole lot more about extinctions than Willis, here you are telling us that mammals and birds are harder to kill off. You guess. The issue isn’t important enough to me to go verify that Wilson really said that. Frankly, Willis has built up enough credibility over time in my eyes that I don’t feel the slightest need to – I’m quite confident Willis isn’t making anything up. He could be wrong (anybody can), but I’m sure he’s not fabricating his evidence.

    How about you? Are you just making all this up as you go along or what? Because while I don’t necessarily trust my gut instincts, my B.S. meter is pegged right now, thinking about your argument.

  217. Mark Bofill says “Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.”

    Whatever. Look it up. If you find something different from 1 species/M/yr, tell me. The range for most groups, BTW, is from 1 to 10, so I would haf to see the context that Wilson is using.

  218. Leg says:
    January 26, 2013 at 12:13 am

    – – – – – –
    Thanks for the link to Willis’ speech. Didn’t know about the recent findings of the DNA-switches he talks about from 9 min on. So part of our “junk-DNA” turns out not to be junk at all, but a survival kit our progenitors left us to turn to when needed. Sweet. Makes you wonder if our progenitors (you see them during the early growth stages of the human fetus isn’t it?) are really extinct…

  219. Re: kit foxes

    Perhaps properly manufactured foxes would hold up better because of better quality control.

  220. Mark Bofill says:
    January 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    From Willis’s original ‘Where are the corpses?’:

    “Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995)”

    Yet here you are, after lauding Wilson and arguing that Wilson knows a whole lot more about extinctions than Willis, here you are telling us that mammals and birds are harder to kill off. You guess.

    In response, trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Whatever. Look it up.

    Gotta love Tralfie. Someone asks him to back up his fatuous claim, and his response is “Whatever. Look it up”. He makes no attempt to justify his bogus choice, say of a 1% extinction rate. He tells me Wilson knows more than me about extinctions … then he ignores Wilson to make his own claims.

    Now, I just showed that Wilson’s estimate of extinction rates, 2.7%, was way out of line, by orders of magnitude. You come back and what do you use for your estimate? 2% … that’s twice the high estimate from the paper under discussion, just about as high as Wilson’s estimate, and I’ve already shown that it is still way, way too high.

    Tralfie, given your request that I “look it up”, it strikes me that perhaps you actually don’t realize that it is your task, not Mark’s or mine, to back up your own big mouth. It seems that you were never taught this part of the responsibility of someone who wants to participate in the world of science. If that’s the case, perhaps you could just repeat this line until you feel like you’ll never forget it—”My mouth, my job to back it up. My mouth, my job to back it up.” Because it’s definitely not my job.

    And when you refuse to do your job, and instead tell us to “look it up”, your credibility goes through the floor, even though you might be right. Nobody goes for that.

    I can guarantee that I won’t look anything up for you, that’s your business, not mine. And I would advise that you actually do look it up. Because if you want me or most folks on this site to believe something, you need to bring your A game. You need to bring facts. Data. Evidence. Logic. Citations. Math. References. Bring in the evidence, and you might get some traction and find someone to engage in a discussion.

    Keep on with this kind of foolishness, on the other hand, and all anyone will do is point and laugh.

    Your choice … just don’t complain if everyone ends up pointing at you and laughing …

    w.

  221. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Mark Bofill says “Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.”

    Whatever. Look it up. If you find something different from 1 species/M/yr, tell me. The range for most groups, BTW, is from 1 to 10, so I would haf to see the context that Wilson is using.
    ————————————————————-
    Well, I find this on the web:

    http://raysweb.net/specialplaces/pages/wilson.html

    I can’t speak for it’s authenticity, I just googled the quote. Does the context this provides cause his remark to make more sense to you?
    Here’s why my B.S. meter is still maxxed out. And let me preface this by saying plainly that I’m no biologist; I know enough biology to have sex with my wife, and that’s about it. Still, it seems to me that either you’re right about mammals and birds, or Wilson is right about mammals and birds. If Wilson is right, there’s a problem with your argument. Let’s say Wilson is dead wrong though. How do you suppose he came to make this mistake? Doesn’t this disturb you enough to make you wonder if Willis might possibly be right, maybe prompt you to go digging / fact checking? It seems to me that you just ignore this and keep plugging away with a certainty that’s based on a demonstrably questionable foundation.

  222. You know Willis, estimating extinction rates for students, I do back of the napkin calculations all the time, and they fall within the reasonable range that my buddies down the hall spend years measuring, so I am quite happy with them, really. And actually, being off by 50% doesnt matter when you are working in log scales, esp. since the estimates have S.E.s that are quite large. But, of interest, you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. This is partially because, what with your mammal/bird bias, you don’t consider all of life. The other problem is that you (and many others here) dont think something is extinct until the last animal is dead. The big problem for animals and plants is that when their populations become low, they cant find one another to breed. They have no internet dating service and no blogs. They are out there by themselves wandering between the subdivisions. And a lot of populations are really low now. This is not good, although some of you seem to think that coyote pops are not low enuf. (BTW, we have them here in the cities of Michigan, so they seem to be doing okay…)

    So maybe the ecologists who spend their lives working on this stuff dont know what they are talking about. But I really sort of doubt it.

    Of interest but off topic, us geneticists (um, now you know, oh no!) can estimate the minimum population size a species went through, we call it a genetic bottleneck. Based on the number of alleles in human populations, we were at a population size of 10000 in Africa some 70K years ago. 10000 individuals, that is really close to extinction for most species that arent protected in some way. Interesting to think about, you think?

  223. Gail Combs says:
    January 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    S. Meyer says:
    January 26, 2013 at 11:44 am

    @davidimhoffer
    “trafamadore;
    Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you….. But, David, this is really not a fair argument….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Actually it is. Only in my case it is coyotes… This is a friend of my Brother-in-law link My next door neighbor lost his entire heard of goats, another friend a herd of sheep and Pat, a third friend lost all her calves. It is no longer safe to leave the house without a gun especially at dawn and dust in my area. Coyotes are not the only predators around either. Around here there are mountain lions, red wolves (released) melanistic jaguars (released) and of course bear, bobcats and red and gray fox. (Note the release of the jaguar (in Florida) was on the internet at the site linked but has been wiped. There was also the report of a pair to be release sighted at a rest area in the Smokies.)
    ###

    What part of the country? What type of goat? The sheep and calves (with opportunity) would be targeted by yotes, but goats are not their normal style, too dangerous. Wiping out a [herd] sounds more like feral dogs (possibly American dingo), or if you are in the right part of the country, the coyotes bigger cousin, those red wolves you mentioned. In my part of the country, Cougars and feral dogs are the biggest problem with calves and goats. My next door neighbors ram would kill a yote, every so often, that was trying to get to the chicken coup. On the other hand my buddy with the pygmy goats, always kept a shotgun handy for the coyotes that would try to grab a meal. The coyote predation stopped after he got a few McNabs.

  224. Willis, Patrick Moore appears in this episode and it’s about the Endangered Species ACT and what you are discussing here, it’s the very first time I have ever seen this, just found it tonight. But it really does spell the issue out.

  225. trafamadore,

    Your style is to argue by assertion. That is not good enough here at the internet’s “Best Science” site. You appear to be the only one who does not see your lack of credibility. Your arguments seem to come entirely from mental free-association; you refuse to do any real homework on the subject. You staked out your position early on, and you are still defending it, even though Willis is destroying all your arguments. My sincere advice: quit digging.

    Willis is a published, peer reviewed author on this very subject. He has studied extinction rates for years, while you come across as a wet behind the ears puppy. You could learn a lot here, if you would just open your closed mind.

  226. Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 26, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    …Tralfie, given your request that I “look it up”, it strikes me that perhaps you actually don’t realize that it is your task, not Mark’s or mine, to back up your own big mouth….
    ————————-
    LOL, and then I go and look up a quote reference for Trafamadore. What can I say, I was bored… :)

    Excellent blog post Willis, always a pleasure reading your articles.

    Goodnight gents.

  227. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    You know Willis, estimating extinction rates for students, I do back of the napkin calculations all the time, and they fall within the reasonable range that my buddies down the hall spend years measuring, so I am quite happy with them, really. And actually, being off by 50% doesnt matter when you are working in log scales, esp. since the estimates have S.E.s that are quite large.

    YIKES! The thought of you with students is mondo scary, my friend. But I digress …

    You take what is the top estimate, and you double it, and then tell us that that “really doesn’t matter”? Well, perhaps if you don’t care if your numbers are unsupportable by the evidence it doesn’t matter …

    But, of interest, you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. This is partially because, what with your mammal/bird bias, you don’t consider all of life.

    I would love to consider all of life. Can you tell me within 5 orders of magnitude how many bacteria have gone extinct in the last 500 years? I thought not. That’s why I studied birds and mammals, because we don’t have anywhere near as much data for e.g. bacteria or deep-sea annelids as we do for birds and mammals.

    In addition, I was studying Wilson’s extinctions. He claimed that the birds and mammals have higher extinction rates from habitat reduction than do the other creatures. Accordingly, if I could show that Wilson was wrong about birds and mammals (which I did), it would show that his claims were false in toto.

    Now, when you come out with your evidence about how many bacteria have gone extinct in the last 500 years, we can talk about that. Until then, you’re just spinning moonbeams talking about including “all of life” in my analysis.

    The other problem is that you (and many others here) dont think something is extinct until the last animal is dead.

    The dictionary and the Red List and the CREO all use the same definition that I (and many others here) use. Here you go (emphasis mine):

    ex·tinct
    /ikˈstiNG(k)t/
    Adjective
    1. (of a species, family, or other larger group) Having no living members.
    2. No longer in existence.
    Synonyms
    dead – defunct

    See that part about “no living members”? That’s why I and the Red List and CREO and the dictionary all say that something is not extinct until the last animal is dead … because THAT’S WHAT EXTINCT MEANS. Since it appears you want to bitch about it or get it changed or something, go talk to the Red List and CREO, because I’m using their definition.

    Now, if you want to have your own personal Tralfie definition of “extinct”, you can do that. And people will point and laugh.

    Again, your choice. Use the definition everyone uses, or have people think you’ve lost the plot.

    w.

    [Willis: The mods are more worried about the calculated extinction rates of his students ....]

  228. [Willis: The mods are more worried about the calculated extinction rates of his students ....]

    ??

    [Actually, quoting you above ... :
    January 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    "You know Willis, estimating extinction rates for students, I do back of the napkin calculations all the time, and they fall within the reasonable range that my buddies down the hall spend years measuring, so I am quite happy with them, really."

    So, naturally, the mods grew concerned about the relative extinction rates calculated for your students. 8<) ]

  229. Willis says: “You take what is the top estimate, and you double it, and then tell us that that “really doesn’t matter”? Well, perhaps if you don’t care if your numbers are unsupportable by the evidence it doesn’t matter …

    But, of interest, you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. This is partially because, what with your mammal/bird bias, you don’t consider all of life.”

    So. get with it, Willis. You might ask for things that arent answerable, but you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. Get with it!!

  230. trafamadore,

    Willis has made an airtight case, and you are still impotently arguing. You assert:

    “…you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect.”

    Rather, you have certainly not shown that it is correct, because it is not correct. Where is your evidence?

    Where are the corpses?

    The onus is entirely upon you to provide scientific evidence to support your conjecture. But you cannot not do that, because you have no such evidence. Thus, you lose the debate.

  231. Come, come, Trafamadore, will you never retract your little blurb about the tree froggies?
    Everyone is wondering about you, so leave poor Willis alone and repair your egregious assertions upthread.

  232. @davidmhoffer
    “That is the part that the trafamadores and S Meyer’s of the world don’t seem to grasp.”

    David, the S Meyers of this world are just trying to keep this discourse civil. All this name-calling just does not help. 

    “Worse, the best way to protect the environment is to do what the western world has done. Raise living standards through the use of cheap energy. Birth rates fall and pressure on the world’s resources falls accordingly. Keep people in poverty, particularly energy poverty, and their birth rate sky rockets, meaning more pressure on earth’s resources, more mouths to feed, and less land left over for the wild life to remain wild.”

    And with that I happen to agree.  To a point. I recently read that Cuba has a birth rate of only 1.45 per woman, and that even though their standard of living is pretty dismal. At the same time, their population has a very good literacy rate, which may explain this anomaly.

    So why are we arguing? I just don’t like name-calling. Must be my German upbringing….

  233. Only late in the discussion at volokh.com are commenter’s addressing biologists elastic notions of “species.” I don’t care is they have rationales; I only care that they are consistent or inconsistent, as Willis shows us this to be the precise problem.

  234. trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Willis says:

    “You take what is the top estimate, and you double it, and then tell us that that “really doesn’t matter”? Well, perhaps if you don’t care if your numbers are unsupportable by the evidence it doesn’t matter …

    But, of interest, you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. This is partially because, what with your mammal/bird bias, you don’t consider all of life.”

    So. get with it, Willis. You might ask for things that arent answerable, but you have not really shown that the 100x (or even a 1001x) increase in the extinction rate is incorrect. Get with it!!

    Thanks, tralf. I had to do a search to make sure exactly what the “100x” means. It relates to what you said above.

    trafamadore says:
    January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

    … It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher. So let take that 100x number and go with it, boys and girls:

    Let me go over this again. I explained it above, but it didn’t seem to take.

    Your claim is that we are losing some 1,000 species per million species per year (100 x 10). That’s one species per thousand going extinct per year. There are about 3,300 mammals living on the continents. You say that the extinction rate is one per thousand species per year, or about 330 mammals going extinct every century on the continents. That works out to about 1,600 continental mammal species that should have gone extinct in the last 500 years, according to your figures.

    Now, let’s compare that with reality. We now (including the Red-Bellied Gracile Mouse Opossum, declared extinct in 2008) have four mammal extinctions on the continents in the last 500 years.

    SO … your claimed extinction rate would result in 1,600 continental mammal extinctions in 500 years.

    We have seen 4.

    So that shows your rate is orders of magnitude high for the continental mammals. For the continental birds, it’s worse. By your claimed extinction rate, we should have seen the extinction of 4,000 continental birds in the last 500 years … and we’ve seen six. And these are the very groups that Wilson said would be the hardest hit by his claimed extinctions from habitat reduction. Since their extinction rates have not been affected by habitat reduction, we have no reason to assume the extinction rates of other species are affected. Thus endeth my demonstration that your 100x is way too large.

    Now, you may be claiming that the extinction rate has recently increased by 100 fold, but we just haven’t seen the extinctions yet … but that is exactly the same claim E. O. Wilson made a quarter century ago, so I’m afraid that claim is well past its use-by date. I went over those numbers in my original post.

    You see, the problem with claiming that the extinction rate went up recently is that Wilson claimed the increase was due to habitat reduction, particularly in forests. He wasn’t talking about introduced species on the islands. He said that forest loss was the cause of the “Sixth Wave of Extinctions”. But we’ve been reducing forest habitat for centuries with no visible effect on the extinction rate, so the claim that we just haven’t seen it yet can’t be sustained.

    I know what my conclusion from these numbers is, tralfie. I conclude that on the continents, 96% of the land area of our astounding planet, your claimed extinction rate is not 100x too high, it is 1000x too high. I also conclude that Wilson didn’t know what he was talking about regarding habitat reduction, and that there is no “Sixth Wave of Extinction”.

    I can’t even begin to guess what you might conclude from these numbers, however, and I’m fairly sure I don’t want to know …

    w.

    PS—Does this prove anything about the extinction rates of e.g. the creatures surrounding the deep-sea hot smoker vents?

    Nope, not one single thing, never said it did … but then, I’m talking about Wilson’s predicted extinctions and historical extinctions as they apply to birds and mammals facing habitat changes, not hydrophilic shrimp living in an environment unchanged for billions of years …

  235. S. Meyer;
    So why are we arguing? I just don’t like name-calling.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Because respect is earned, not demanded. People with differing opinions may encounter a frosty reception here, but if they back their position with facts and logic they get respect. If they argue by assertion and condescension and refusal to even acknowledge points of view that they cannot refute with facts and logic, then they are just a troll and deserve to be treated as such. I think that Willis has been remarkably patient under the circumstances, and tramafadore has gotten off rather lightly. But she’s made rather a fool of herself in the process and at some point there is little value in failing to call a spade a spade.

  236. “trafamadore says: January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm
    ….yada yada yada yada… (snipped for brevity)
    I think Wills isnt looking for the bodies in the right place…he needs to be on his hands and kneesiin the Tropics, home to most of the Earth’s species… snipped more traffy daffy yada”…”

    Definitely worth another; ummmm…

    Traffy; you really do your homework don’t you; NOT!

    Just because in today’s world there are dense jungles in the tropics with plenty of critter &, plants doesn’t mean they’ve been jungles forever. http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1017-amazon.html.

    Name a jungle. Are there ruins there? Most likely. Man has thrived in tropical conditions and suffered localized extinction events themselves. Odd isn’t it that all these jungle type of areas grew back and repopulated.

    In America the Native American used to burn the undergrowth and fallen wood out every few years. An untouched virgin forest is danged hard to traverse; what with all of the undergrowth and fallen debris.

    In the midwest, Native American burned acreage for several reasons; to form controlled food collection points gathering the fleeing animals, also to keep that difficult woody growth from interfering with all of that grassland. Bison ranged across North America and originally biologists believed that Eastern bison were a separate species and were driven extinct. Now it is believed the bison that ranged the Eastern woods were Eastern wandering bison. Only it is hard for ruminants to thrive in heavy forest. The original colonists didn’t hunt a lot of deer or bison; mostly they ate squirrel and birds. The deer thrived after the woods was cut down; bison probably would have if they weren’t already et.

    The Amazon is believed to have supported a large sedentary population with large areas deforested. All that lime the South American natives used had to be kilned somehow…

    Anyway Traffy; people here have put up with your incessant troll type whining. If you’ve paid any attention, you should’ve learned a lot…

    Only, learning doesn’t seem to be your purpose in visiting WUWT. Nor is debating science; It is a puzzle why you are here as you consistently nit pick non-issues, off topic points, bizarre takes on plainly spoken logic and just forever harping about how inferior our logic, data and deductions are… You’ve certainly haven’t been able to demonstrate nor elucidate better science at any level.

    Well Traffy, it all goes to prove how it isn’t a good idea to feed trolls. Trolls are a lot like pigeons, they crowd the font, bully others, crap all over and then leave without a “thank you” or care in the world. Only trolls, much like your visits here, are far worse than pigeons and I feel bad for sullying the pigeons.

    If by some sad and disappointing inference you are that Trenbbbbb fellow, go find some more travesties. We’ve a little full up with your current travesty attempt here.

    PS I hear there are deep warm pools of water caused by global warmbats in the Congo; maybe you should visit there and check it out…

  237. Willis:

    In response to your talk at ICCC7 (which I liked so much — thanks to Canman for posting the link): I think the extinction of the slide rule was not a good thing.

    I was one of last few schoolchildren who were still taught to use it, and I totally didn’t get it. It was pure magic, and I did not like magic. Plus, I was one of the first schoolchildren on the planet with an electronic calculator in my pocket, so I totally missed the significance of the slide rule.

    I believe the mistake on educators’ part that lead to the demise of slide rule’s (and much else, as a consequence) was to make it an object of learning. As such, it was not terribly interesting. If instead it was used as a means to teach mathematics in general — number theory, algebra, operations, projections, and probably a whole lot of other useful abstractions (as well as the art of making abstractions itself), we would probably be a much more numerate society today.

    Come to think of it, there is no other object you can hold in your hand that materialises so many key ideas in mathematics. I only realised how great a teaching aid it was when my own children grew up enough to be challenged with the same ideas, and they didn’t like magic any more than I did. We started by playing with the “additive slide rule”, which was just a pair of regular rulers (or just strips of cardboard, which I later found to be better than pre-graduated rulers because you can mark them any way you want). With that, you don’t have to strenuously wrap your brain around questions like how much -1 – (-1 – 1) will be. I claim, you use more of your brain (and the more powerful parts of it) while playing with a pair of rulers to solve that problem than when you do it as a purely mental exercise, as the school wants you to do. In passing, you discover (or reinforce) the ideas of identity (zero distance) and negation (if you can travel a certain distance forward, you can then go back the same distance). With numbers visualised as distances and materialised as marks on real objects, additive algebra becomes a screaming fun. I actually had to stop my children once I knew they had got it, so we could go to the next stage (same with many more children I introduced to the slide rule later — it was too much fun).

    The next step captures the gist of the “multiplicative” slide rule that engineers use(d). You take the graduated strips of cardboard we played with earlier and simply rename their divisions, like so: 0 -> 1, 1 -> 2, 2 -> 4, …, and hand them to your students without saying a word. What follows is a bliss. They typically have to be prompted to do this renaming trick (I have not seen a single child yet who would discover it by chance), but once presented with the renamed version, they immediately understand its purpose:

    “Wow, multiplication is just addition by other name!”
    “Now I need to put 1/2 on the other side of 1, where -1 was.”
    “Let’s make another pair of rulers for number 3.”
    “That’s way cool! Can we now have 2 and 3 on the same ruler?”

    After a few iterations and a few more cardboard strips in the waste bin, they make a passable slide rule that can do 3 / 2 = 1.5 or 7 * 5 = 35. When they reach that stage, you pull your dad’s slide rule out of the closet and hand it to them. It is mesmerising to watch what they do with it.

    I believe the slide rule must be made a protected species. We’re missing too much fun without it.
    “Man, I can now see where 6 is, 1/6 and 1.5!”
    take it to the end, all by themselves, and within an hour or two of unbounded fun you see them make a decent slide rule with, after a few iterations, they have a

  238. Mr. Eschenbach:

    I presume the six continental bird species to which you refer include the well-known cases of the Labrador duck, great auk (also from islands, of course), passenger pigeon & Carolina parakeet. To these I would add three or four Latin American species–the Colombian grebe & Bogota sunangel (probable), Atitlan grebe of Guatemala & slender-billed grackle of Mexico–for a total of seven or eight extinctions in the past few hundred years.

    There are another 19 or so instances of possible or probable extinction of non-island, non-Australian birds, but either the species are dubious or there’s a chance they might still exist, like the ivory-billed woodpecker of Arkansas & imperial woodpecker of Mexico.

    In any case, your thesis is valid. The numerous island & Australia extinctions skew the record.

  239. Trafamadore, you say, ” from Traf: Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers”….”
    So let me get this straight you blithering fool, evolution should stop right now, in 2013 so you children can see them. Absolutely pathetic.

  240. atheok says: “Just because in today’s world there are dense jungles in the tropics with plenty of critter &, plants doesn’t mean they’ve been jungles forever.”

    First, I really dont remember arguing this. And next, the species diversity in the Tropics is many many times that in temperate regions. And, maybe people were clearing jungle long ago, but the Congo and Amazon jungles are 10s of millions of years old, old enuf to have their own fish, animals etc (long before people/chimps _ancestors_ existed). Compare that to the Great Lakes, almost a ecological desert by comparison, only 10000 years old.

  241. No such luck. I figure the climbdown is going to be effected without anyone ever really admitting that Wilson had his head up his anomaly and fooled just about everyone.

    So write a comment/letter to Science. Their editors will be more or less obligated to publish it. The paper appears to make an unreferenced claim for extinction rates; you have a prior claim supported by data and a short, cogent argument.

    Let me make the counter-argument, not as an expert, but just for the grins of it. Note that estimates for the number of species vary wildly and are constantly changing, in part because it is difficult for even the biologists to decide what is a different species and what is simply a variant of an existing one. This question is subtle, because species can often freely interbreed. As an example, note that all dog breeds are one species, where finches that to the eye are far more identical and that can equally well interbreed (and that have the same number of chromosomes etc) are not. If biologists from an alien planet arrived on Earth, would they consider the Chihuahua and Great Dane the same species?

    This isn’t just my imagination. See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem

    This problem lies at the heart of the issue, because without an accepted solution nobody will ever agree on the baseline numbers or rates, will they?

    When one counts the species (by any measure), the numbers of species diverges the farther down the phylogenetic chain one descends. Tens of primate species, thousands of mammal species, tens of thousands of bird species — a crude count is given here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species

    Note that they count only 60,000 odd thousand vertebrates combined, another 1.3 million invertebrate animals, 4 or 5 hundred thousand plants and lichens and algae and then the numbers get really interesting — 10 to 30 million insects (say what?). 1.5 million fungi? A million mites? 5 to 10 million bacteria?

    Then look at the chart on the right. These numbers include vast, vast numbers of species that supposedly exist but are undiscovered. Out in this genetic terra incognita anything could be true, so how can any claim be falsified? If there are nine to twenty-nine million undiscovered insect species, how can any claim of species extinction rate be falsified? Even if, in fifty years, we find that there are only two million species of insects discovered after looking very, very hard for new species, that could only mean that in the intervening interval we killed off as many as twenty-eight million of them in the greatest extinction event of all time!

    The situation with bacteria is even worse, because new species are very probably constantly emerging and going extinct that far down the chain. Again one gets into difficulties with the term “species” — how much divergence is required for a variation on a prevalent green monkey disease to count as HIV? How much variation is there between MRSA (antibiotic resistant staph aureous, bred in our hospitals with great care) and the old non-resistant SA, compared to variations between other staph species? These are subtle questions, although in the end mapping all of the genes of all proposed distinct “species” may render the questions moot. There very likely is no sharp line here, only a blurring and accumulation of small discrete mutations that eventually push a centroid of sorts outside of the range of “natural” single generation variation.

    The final thing that contributes to the enormous range of variation in the estimates of extinction rates is localization. In very specific areas of the US and Canada there is a melanistic subgroup of the Eastern Grey Squirrel, the Black Squirrel:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_squirrel

    They are common in the suburbs of Detroit, for example. In North Carolina I’ve never seen a black squirrel, although we’ve a ton of grey ones. Nothing between the ones in Detroit and NC but miles of trees. Black squirrels are not considered different species (although once they might have been, and the question of how space aliens would count them still applies) but they tend to live in small enclaves and breed true. Reportedly, black squirrels were once the dominant kind of North American squirrel and enjoy certain survival advantages over the grey subgroup, but deforestation and human pressure supposedly shifted the evolutionary selection in favor of the greys as European settlers cut down all the trees and found squirrel (black or not) very tasty.

    Insect species are far less mobile than squirrels, and spiders that live on one particular mountain can easily be isolated from spiders that live two mountails away (separated by several streams). Variations that started out no more significant than that of a grey vs black squirrel can easily build up over hundreds or thousands of years to the point where a naturalist, eager to have a species named after him (the reward of discovery, after all) claims a discovery of a new species because the two variations have a very slightly different pattern of spots, or average size, even though the two species, placed on a single mountain in between, would cheerfully interbreed and there is no real survival advantage or structural difference and even the DNA is only trivially different.

    Comes the day when the forest on the first mountain is all cut down for timber, killing every last spider living on it, did the Earth lose a species? Suppose that mountain held the world’s last reserve of black squirrels? How about then? There might be far more practical and visible variation between black and grey squirrels than between the two supposedly different spiders, but killing off every black squirrel will not make Eastern Grey Squirrels extinct (and being mobile, they will be much harder to kill off anyway).

    This is where complexity and counting become very important — and difficult. If one counts “every” geographically localized variation of bacteria, insects, fungi, fish, and so on as different species (including ones that are far less obvious than the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane or grey versus black Grey Squirrels without a clear definition of species and with a huge career incentive for the discovery of new species (many claims for which will necessarily go unchallenged because there is no profit in challenging somebody else’s claim, only in making a new one yourself) then one can make almost any claim you like about the rate at which undiscovered species are or will go extinct and it can never be falsified.

    A million species of insect might have been wiped out during the settlement of the US and nobody could prove it or prove that it didn’t happen. Two million species of bacteria could be wiped out by a two degree centigrade warming — or not — and without an actual count of and clear definition of ten million presumed species of bacteria who will ever know?

    The right way to answer this question would be to first of all come up with a hard definition of species, one that creates a clear boundary at the level of DNA. This is almost impossible, as hybrids occur between widely different species and often are not sterile — nature is far more variable than we might have once thought, so the simple criterion of being able to interbreed and not terminate in sterile “mules” is not adequate (and of course inapplicable to bacteria and yeast and fungi) but without a quantitative definition the question can never be answered in an objective way although a reformed version of the question — how fast is the genetic variability of various phylogenetic divisions of living beings changing, how is the volume of genetic phase space changing — may be.

    Then one could at least formulate statistical estimates of rates by sampling what goes on in the various phyla.

    This is where Willis’ estimate comes up short (again, remember that I’m playing the Devil’s Advocate here). Mammal extinction rates and bird extinction rates are no more than noise on the overall extinction rates one expects. Mammals only rarely fill narrow, geographically isolated niches. Birds are similarly highly mobile and remarkably tolerant in the range of habitat that will support them. Spiders, however, may be differentiated hill by hill, mesa by mesa, valley by valley. Ants, mites, fungi — how different do they have to be to really be different? Is it reasonable to consider a variation of spider to be “made extinct” if it dies off on its localized hillside when one or two hills over a very close cousin is perfectly capable of filling precisely the same niche and not even be noticed as being “different”?

    With all that said, I agree with Willis’ general suggestion that mass extinction is very probably an exaggerated claim, even by the second Science article. But in a claim for precedence in a letter to Science, it might be worthwhile to avoid the argument based on mammals and birds and focus on the big money, bacteria and insects.

  242. The estimates of how many species are on Earth (5 ± 3 million) are now more accurate than the moderate predictions of extinction rates (0.01 to 1% per decade). The latter suggest 500 to 50,000 extinctions per decade if there are 5 million species on Earth.

    Like many modern scientists, rather than trying to find the most probable, they simply assume the worst. So they give their calculations assuming a 1% decadal extinction rate. Here’s the problem. That’s no more believable than Wilson’s 2.7% per decade rate. There are about 3,300 mammal species living on the continents (excluding Australia). If we assume that one percent of them go extinct per decade, that would mean that we should be seeing about 33 continental mammal extinctions per decade. It’s worse for birds, a 1% extinction rate for birds would be about 80 continental birds per decade. We have seen absolutely nothing even vaguely resembling that. That’s only slightly below Wilson’s estimate of a 2.7% extinction rate, and is still ridiculously high.

    Instead of 33 mammals and 80 birds going extinct on the continents per decade, in the last 500 years on the great continental landmasses of the world, we’ve only seen three mammals and six birds go extinct.

    Good demonstration.

    Also one may note, as the above highlights implicitly albeit not explicitly, the “millions of species” comes predominately from a supposed number of invertebrates, such as the number of theoretically technically slightly species-defining distinctions amongst bugs in jungles, etc. (so difficult to even notice or for many people to care to try to count that their figure is 5 ± 3 million, as in some nebulous number imagined to be easily anywhere from 2 to 8 million; the “Red List” mainly doesn’t bother to include insects, but only by predominately invertebrates can figures of millions of species be generated).

    For what most people more ordinarily think of and care about as significant species, the total is more thousands than millions. From that, look at the limited percentage and smaller number in extinction risk, and sufficient millions of dollars each if needed to save / breed them would be trivial next to the world economy which is hundreds of trillions of dollars (hundreds of millions of millions of dollars) a decade, in contrast to activist attempts to use species extinction as an excuse to demand decimating civilization in general. Different plant species are somewhat more numerous but cheaper still to preserve each.

    As for the multitude of subtle insect variations hypothetically at risk of extinction, most are concentrated in a few rain forest areas (jungles); such can be an argument for wilderness preserves there (as often exist), but human activity in the bulk of the world is simply irrelevant to them, like there is no huge multitude of insect species at risk from economic development in South Dakota.

  243. My anecdotal observations show improvement in many species over the last decades.

    Whitetail deer — increased to the point of overpopulation
    Wild turkey — encroaching now into suburbs
    Canada geese — again, to the point of overpopulation in some areas
    Great blue herons — never saw any in the Appalachian mnts until recently, now there’s even a “regular” that patrols my border-stream in all seasons
    Green herons along my stream
    Bald eagles — see them regularly now in the watershed of the south branch of the Potomac river in WV
    Hawks
    Barred owls — encroaching even into suburban areas
    Fish in small Appalachian streams — mostly introduced brown trout and blue-gills. State regulations enforcing “green-borders” along wetlands have benefited them
    Chorus frogs, tree frogs and spring-peepers (frogs) in low, moist forests & streams
    Pileated woodpeckers — again, encroaching into suburban areas
    Sugar maples invading southeastward into formerly all oak-hickory-tuliptree forests

    Alot of this has to do with human cultural changes, but it demonstrates the insignificance of supposed “climate-change” compared to other factors.

  244. milodonharlani says:
    January 27, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Mr. Eschenbach:

    I presume the six continental bird species to which you refer include the well-known cases of …

    If you have to ask that, I presume you have not done your homework. Go read the underlying documents referenced in the head post, and come back when you know what we’re talking about. I specified and discussed each species that has gone extinct.

    Thanks,

    w.

  245. Gene Selkov says:
    January 27, 2013 at 5:33 am

    I believe the slide rule must be made a protected species.

    I agree wholehearted, otherwise, it’ll be just another victim of the fabled Sixth Wave of Extinction …

    w.

  246. rgbatduke, thanks as always for a reasoned and interesting comment.

    You point out the vagueness of the boundary between species, and you are correct. Additionally, you are correct to point out that we could have wiped out a whole host of bacterial species when Europeans colonized the US, and we could not tell either way.

    Finally, you say that the extinction rates of birds and mammals is not representative of other groups, which is also true.

    However, there are a couple of related and significant issues.

    First, ever since I was a kid, the estimate of the number of species has been steadily dropping. There were suppose to be hundreds of millions when I was young. Then it went down to tens of millions, and then to ten million (the figure used by E. O. Wilson), and in this paper it has dropped down to 5 ± 3 million, or perhaps as few as 2 million.

    So I’d be very cautious about a Wikipedia claim that there are “10 to 30 million insect species” … that one is a serious outlier.

    Second, while it gets kinda vague down in the basement morass of archaea and bacteria viruses and fungi and the like, there is a clear difference between say an eastern and a western cougar on the one hand, and an eastern cougar and an elephant on the other hand. The concept of “species”, while somewhat vague down in the basement, works fairly well here in the upper floors.

    And while the original definition (a male and female of the same species can have fertile offspring) often doesn’t work down in the basement, by and large here on the upper floors it does provide a bright-line definition. As a result, if the algerian gazelle and the red-bellied gracile mouse opossum both go extinct, we can be damn sure they are not the same species, and that there are no red-bellied algerian gracile gazelle opossums running around anywhere.

    Finally, let me return to the reason I began this study. E. O. Wilson used a simplistic method, called the “species-area relationship”, to estimate the rate of extinction of species due to the reduction of forest habitat. I have not tried, for obvious reasons, to determine if it is true about amazonian spider-mites … because there is no way to establish that one either way.

    Instead, I focused on the group that E. O. Wilson claimed would show the highest rates, birds and mammals. His is a reasonable claim, given that the average lifespans of mammal and bird species are at the shorter end of the scale for species in general, and thus they must be easier to drive extinct than many other species.

    Clearly, as you point out, my method has shortcomings. But I would argue that we simply do not have the data to calculate the extinction rates of other species. But given that bird and mammal species are known to have short species lifespans, and that we have put huge hunting pressure on both birds and mammals which we have not put on other groups, I think that using them as the canaries in the mine is fully justified.

    Care to join me in writing a letter to Science? If it is signed by a PhD it’ll get more traction. I have not had good luck with such letters in the past, but past performance is no guarantee of future results, like the stock brokers say …

    Thanks as always, I never fail to both enjoy and learn something from your comments.

    w.

    • > And while the original definition (a male and female of the same species can have fertile offspring) often doesn’t work down in the basement, by and large here on the upper floors it does provide a bright-line definition.

      Just to elaborate a bit on Willis’s “by and large” remark: it does not work for the so-called “ring species”, some of which include frogs.

  247. Gene Selkov says:
    January 27, 2013 at 11:57 am

    >

    And while the original definition (a male and female of the same species can have fertile offspring) often doesn’t work down in the basement, by and large here on the upper floors it does provide a bright-line definition.

    Just to elaborate a bit on Willis’s “by and large” remark: it does not work for the so-called “ring species”, some of which include frogs. … (other good stuff snipped)

    Thanks for the clarification, Gene. You raise an interesting issue. Here’s a definition of “ring species”:

    Ring species provide unusual and valuable situations in which we can observe two species and the intermediate forms connecting them. In a ring species:

    • A ring of populations encircles an area of unsuitable habitat.
    • At one location in the ring of populations, two distinct forms coexist without interbreeding, and hence are different species.
    • Around the rest of the ring, the traits of one of these species change gradually, through intermediate populations, into the traits of the second species.

    Since the citation says “we can observe two species and the intermediate forms connecting them”, I fail to see how they are not using the standard definition of a species. When they say “two species”, they are calling them two species because the two groups of frogs can’t interbreed.

    Yes, they are connected by intermediate forms that can interbreed … and? All that does is recapitulate the usual temporal history of speciation (gradual change over time until interbreeding is impossible) in one location. Or as Ernst Mayr observed, he called ring species not a disproof of speciation, but ““the perfect demonstration of speciation”.

    So even in the ring species, the ones that can’t interbreed, they are calling two species that can’t interbreed “separate species”. Yes, you are quite correct that ring species do make the lines somewhat fuzzier. But any two given critters either can or cannot interbreed, and on that basis, if they can’t interbreed people call them different species.

    Now, when you get to creatures without sex, where are the species lines? When you get to creatures that swap genes horizontally, where are the species lines? Hows about creatures that do both? In those situations, the idea of a “species” doesn’t have much meaning.

    But for the overwhelming majority of the creatures that we deal with on a daily basis, they do exist in different species, there are (fairly) bright lines dividing the species, and for those beings, the concept of a “species” is quite useful and productive.

    My thanks to you for raising the issue.

    w.

    • Willis,

      This statement you quote from Wikipedia:

      • At one location in the ring of populations, two distinct forms coexist without interbreeding, and hence are different species.

      .contains what I think is a misstatement as applied to a general case, unless that “one location in the ring” includes the lab setting where individuals are tested for their ability to breed. Normally, you see “two distinct forms” when you pick the individuals from the opposite ends of any diameter, but not from any short segment of the ring. It is the fact that you can pick any pair of the not-so-distant neighbours and see them breed, but not if they are distant enough, that makes it really fuzzy. In other words, the interbreeding relationship is only locally transitive.

  248. Mr. Eschenbach:

    You did discuss the species which qualified according to your view, but you did not consider the many “continental” bird species that arguably could or should be considered extinct, detailing why you reject them.

    For instance, the great auk bred on offshore islands in historic times (unclear about prehistory), but it fed in continental shelf seas, so close to land that it was exploited by humans for millennia. The Cozumel thrasher lived on an island, but very close to land (probably attached to the mainland during glaciations), as opposed to the oceanic islands which have seen such devastation due to human activities. Cuba & Puerto Rico however are far enough from land IMO to be considered uncontinental, despite their prehistoric human occupations.

    The Bogota sunangel hummingbird was considered a possible hybrid until DNA analysis in 2009 showed it to have been a distinct species, now assumed extinct. Similarly, a study has found the coppery or Letitia’s thorntail a species rather than subspecies or hybrid. Another presumably extinct South American hummingbird, the turquoise-throated or Godin’s puffleg, has been considered a hybrid or subspecies.

    To the species problem must be added the “continental” birds probably extinct but awaiting surveys of every last possible little bit of habitat, including such well known cases as the two North American woodpeckers I mentioned & the Eskimo & slender-billed curlews. The Himalayan quail, for instance, hasn’t definitely been sighted since 1876, but is still listed as critically endangered rather than extinct. Same goes for the hooded seedeater (reported in 1823), Rueck’s blue fly-catcher (last seen in 1918), Tachira antpitta (1956), Korean crested shelduck (1964), white-eyed river martin (1980, but possibly more recently), Red Sea cliff swallow (1984), Bachman’s warbler (1988 in US, but wintered in Cuba), Tana River cisticola & glaucous macaw. At least some of these rare birds are likely in fact to be extinct.

    Doubling, tripling or quadrupling the number of qualifying extinctions wouldn’t affect your argument much, but IMO some discussion of such considerations would be proper.

  249. rgbatduke says:
    ”Is it reasonable to consider a variation of spider to be “made extinct” if it dies off on its localized hillside when one or two hills over a very close cousin is perfectly capable of filling precisely the same niche and not even be noticed as being “different”?”

    That seems to me to be a much more important question if we’re trying to determine if we’re in the throes of a mass extinction or not. What characteristic marks the previous mass extinctions? Did they not leave vast arrays of vacant niches? For example, the 65 MA event that did in the dinosaurs (except birds) left niches available for mammals to evolve to fill ultimately giving rise to us. Trying to figure out whether we’re in a mass extinction event by counting species seems to just get bogged down in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, which Willis does a decent job of by excluding all but continental mammals and birds but perhaps could be improved upon by analyzing niche availability instead.

    It has been suggested that there are a finite number of niches: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2423567?uid=3739848&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101594178651

    If so, couldn’t we potentially survey available niches to determine if extinction rates are leaving an unusual amount of resources unutilized, i.e. vacant niches?

  250. Mr. West:

    The number of ecological niches is certainly finite, but not constant.

    Ecosystem complexity generally increases with time, except for epochs in the wake of great mass extinction events. Cambrian niches were fewer than Ordovician & especially than Silurian or Devonian, after green plants evolved & animals began to colonize terrestrial environments.

    The spread of grasslands & diminution of forests in the Cenozoic both created new niches & reduced others.

  251. Willis @12:59: “The figure of 99.9999% of all species being extinct is likely an exaggeration, my calculations put it at about 99.8% of all species being extinct.”

    Thanks, Willis. You have laid out some reasonable calculations for the figure. I would add just two caveats:

    First, the number is based on estimates which are then extrapolated. The number is not based on actual counts in the fossil record. Now to be sure we could argue that the fossil record is not expected to show but a miniscule fraction of extinct species due to fossil degradation, lack of preservation of soft bodies, shifts in the Earth’s crust, and other obscuring forces. And we might even be correct in all these assumptions. But it is a somewhat ironic situation when we are supporting our theory, not on the basis of empirical evidence, but because our theory predicts that there won’t be empirical evidence. We may be right, and our calculations may accidentally be spot on, but I believe my point stands: the numbers typically thrown about are not based on actual physical observations, but on assumptions and extrapolations. The assumptions and extrapolations may turn out to be right (even a stopped clock is right twice a day), but I like to at least acknowledge that they are assumptions and extrapolations and may not be correct.

    Second, the question of extinction rate in the context of the number of existing species raises the related and very interesting question of species formation rate. If, to use your example, we have 5M species today and had, say, the same number of species 500M years ago, then the species formation rate would have to have at least matched the species extinction rate. Indeed, if we go back in time far enough to a point when there were few species we are inevitably forced to the conclusion that the species formation rate must have greatly exceeded the species extinction rate at least for a meaningful portion of the Earth’s history. I submit that there is little concrete evidence that the species formation rate is this rapid (we certainly don’t have evidence that 100 new species have formed in the last 20 years, for example; I’m obviously talking about new formations, not new discoveries of already existing species). Now we could postulate a theory that although observed species formation rates are typically incredibly low, species formation usually happens in quick bursts in places and at times that aren’t preserved in the historical record (let’s call it, say, ‘punctuated equilibrium’). Again we might be right. But someone might be forgiven for noticing that, yet again, we have proposed a theory, the support for which comes not from actual evidence in the fossil record but from an absence of evidence. Yes, we can do our best to extrapolate and assume and guess, but it is important to acknowledge that this is what we are doing.

  252. milodonharlani says:
    January 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Mr. Eschenbach:

    You did discuss the species which qualified according to your view, but you did not consider the many “continental” bird species that arguably could or should be considered extinct, detailing why you reject them.

    Yes, I did detail why I rejected them. Take the Great Auk. I said in “Where Are The Corpses” that I divided the birds between continental and islands “based on where the birds breed”. Since the Auk bred on the islands, it was classified as an island bird.

    As to whether I should have considered the list of birds that have not been declared extinct, like the curlews and the host of species you list that have not been seen in a while, let me remind you of what you obviously glossed over in the original post:

    This study is not about estimated, predicted, or calculated extinctions. It is an analysis of the actual historical record of extinctions, with the purpose of understanding the nature and size of extinctions from historical habitat reduction.

    By extinction I never mean local extinction. I have analyzed total extinctions of species (not subspecies). Local extinction is a separate and valuable study, not covered by this work.

    I am not referring to “almost extinct,” “on the brink of extinction,” or “reportedly extinct.” I am discussing the actual extinction of species as confirmed by the relevant authorities.

    Was that unclear?

    Next, you point to the difficulty of determining species. Yes, it is hard. I have not attempted to get into that food fight. As I said, and I will say again, my study was of “the actual extinction of species as confirmed by the relevant authorities”. If you wish to get into the details, you’ll have to talk to the Red List or CREO.

    For an example, take the Bogota sunangel hummingbird. You claim it is extinct, but as I said, I don’t deal with claims. I want it confirmed by the relevant authority, which in this case is the Red List. Regarding the Bogota Sunangel, it says:

    Although previously treated as Critical, a recent re-evaluation of poorly known, possibly extinct Critical species and Data Deficient species has indicated that this taxon is best treated as Data Deficient at present.

    So the Red List does not claim it is extinct as you say, or even “critically endangered”, but “Data Deficient”. This is quite reasonable when you consider that we have no complete holotype (the first specimen collected of a given animal), and that the only evidence of the existence of this bird is from one skin purchased, not collected but purchased, in 1906 … we don’t even know which country it lived in, and you want to bust me for not explaining why it is not on my list? It’s not on my list because we know next to nothing about it, and the relevant authority has not classified it as extinct.

    You have provided an excellent example of just why I did NOT try to do what you recommend, to try to detail why I did not include every single species imaginable—because I would be picking the spitballs off the wall for a hundred years. Instead, I gave the bright-line definitions I used regarding inclusion (breeds on the continent and not on an island, not a subspecies, not “almost extinct”, etc.) and left people to do their own homework …

    Finally, you are correct when you say that finding even three or four extinctions wouldn’t change the situation. We’re missing hundreds and hundreds of claimed extinctions, not one or two.

    w.

  253. Eric Anderson says:
    January 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    … First, the [estimated extinction rate] is based on estimates which are then extrapolated. The number is not based on actual counts in the fossil record.

    Thanks, Eric. I’m sorry, but this is totally untrue. Do you think the scientists just pick a number and extrapolate? The extinction estimates are based on the fossil record and very little else. Take a look at e.g. “The Currency and Tempo of Extinction” for one example among many. It also covers the issues you raise further down in your post concerning how to calculate the effects of the uncertainty of the fossil record.

    Regards,

    w.

  254. Ever notice the stories trumpted by the Lame Stream Media are almost always about extinctions.

    What about the number of new species that are discovered every year?

    Is there an ongoing accounting that reconciles extinctions with newly discovered species?

  255. milodonharlani says:
    January 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Mr. West:

    The number of ecological niches is certainly finite, but not constant.

    Ecosystem complexity generally increases with time, except for epochs in the wake of great mass extinction events. Cambrian niches were fewer than Ordovician & especially than Silurian or Devonian, after green plants evolved & animals began to colonize terrestrial environments.

    The spread of grasslands & diminution of forests in the Cenozoic both created new niches & reduced others.

    This is a pet peeve of mine. I hold that there are no “ecological niches” in the absence of a creature which has figured out how to live there.

    For example, consider the area hundreds of feet underground … is this an “ecological niche”? It turns out that certain parts of it are indeed an ecological niche, because thermophilic bacteria have figured out how to live there, and other parts are not. What’s the difference between the niche and the not-niche? One thing and one thing only … someone figured out how to live there.

    As another example, is a smooth rock sitting on the surface an ecological niche? Well, not in the absence of lichens … but for lichens it is a very comfy ecological niche, thank you very much.

    So here’s the question. If if every lichen were driven extinct, is the rock still an ecological niche? I say no. I hold that ecological niches are not created, limned, or defined by natural processes. They do not exist separate from life. They are only a niche if there is an animal capable of living there. Because until an animal evolves that can live way underneath the surface and subsist on sulfur and iron, it’s just a barren dead section of earth 500 feet underground that is not an ecological niche for anything.

    w.

  256. Mr. Eschenbach:

    The Red List reevaluation of the Bogota Sunangel was before the 2009 discovery of its valid species status, so data are now less insufficient, regardless of the precise provenance of the species. We know to which birds it is most closely related, & it has not been observed in the area of their habitats.

    Relying on the Red List is objective & systematic, but necessarily undercounts extinctions, probably by an insignificant amount within the range of your argument.

    Many islands, like Cozumel & the breeding places of great auks, are islands during interglacials, but are simply high places on dry land during the much longer glacial phases. As your study dealt with the past 500 years, this is less of a problem. Species like Bachman’s warbler, which breed on islands (Cuba in its case) but feed & spend more time on continents also constitute a grey area.

    However, while I think that your distinction between island/Australian & continental species is useful, advocates of human-induced mass extinction often include the late Pleistocene/early Holocene loss of megafauna & other groups, arguably from paleolithic hunter predation (“overkill hypothesis” to explain the Quaternary extinction event). There was however a continental “island” effect, since Australia & the Americas, where humans had been absent or rare previously, suffered relatively more wipe-out than did Europe & Asia, but especially Africa, during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.

    Lichen are fungal-photosynthetic organism symbionts, not animals, as I’m sure you are aware. Fungi are however more closely related to animals than to plants. Potential niches exist awaiting exploitation by life, which often requires evolution of other organisms first. Food & energy sources eventually are exploited.

    I feel that life is inevitable in certain chemical & physical environments, in order to solve mass & energy equations under the natural laws ruling our universe. Saturn’s moon Titan offers a good test of this hypothesis.

  257. Time is short…
    =========

    “You know, if I could have my time again, I think I would be a microbial ecologist. I would spend my time studying micro-organisms in their natural environment. I’d cut my way through forests of bacteria on a grain of sand. I would imagine myself in a submarine in a drop of water that seemed as large as a lake, and for one more turn around, I would be an explorer naturalist in a new world.”

    Edward O. Wilson
    =============
    ..and curiosity killed the cat.

  258. Some estimate that microbial biomass in the Earth’s crust may exceed that of all life forms on its surface, in the oceans & atmosphere. Decades ago Gold hypothesized that petroleum may in effect be a quasi-renewable resource, created from organic matter biological in origin in the crust, not buried surface life such as gives rise to coal & peat (while still possibly requiring hundreds of millions of years to pressure-cook).

    Some of the “continental” extinctions occurred in isolated island-like environments, whether an actual island on the continental shelf, a tropical mountaintop or lake. Even the passenger pigeon was dependent on the eastern woodland environment, large though that was. While hunting finished it off, cutting & burning the hardwood forests to plant corn stressed its once enormous population.

    Some Pleistocene megafauna species had survived the Eemian & prior interglacials, but died off at the start of our current interglacial (the Holocene) under the added pressure of human predation.

  259. milodonharlani says:
    January 27, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Mr. Eschenbach:

    The Red List reevaluation of the Bogota Sunangel was before the 2009 discovery of its valid species status, so data are now less insufficient, regardless of the precise provenance of the species. We know to which birds it is most closely related, & it has not been observed in the area of their habitats.

    Relying on the Red List is objective & systematic, but necessarily undercounts extinctions, probably by an insignificant amount within the range of your argument.

    Perhaps, although I would suspect that it overcounts extinctions. I say that because the CREO list, which has clear guidelines for inclusion, counts less mammal extinctions than does the Red List.

    Regarding the Sunangel … so what? The Red List 2012 clearly thinks it is a species, so your argument is wrong. The reason it is listed as “Data Deficient” is that we don’t know where it lived. Read the damn Red List page, which says:

    Heliangelus zusii is known from a single trade-skin purchased in 1909 in Bogotá, and speculated to have been collected on the East Andes or possibly the Central Andes of Colombia, within a few hundred kilometres of the capital. However, some “Bogotá” specimens came from as far away as Ecuador (F. G. Stiles in litt. 1999), and a recent reassessment (Kirchman et al. 2009) suggests that the species might have originated in humid or semi-arid habitat anywhere from northwestern Venezuela to northern Peru up to 3,200 m. Since no other specimen is known, it is assumed to be (or have been) a species of restricted range. Much habitat in the Colombian East and Central Andes has been extensively degraded, particularly within the lower limits of this species’s presumed elevational range. However, its probable habitat preferences suggest that it is not inconceivable that a remnant population may persist. The validity of this taxon is sometimes questioned (e.g. F. G. Stiles in litt. 1999), but DNA sequencing supports its recognition as a valid taxon (Kirchman et al. 2009).

    Heliangelus spp. typically occur in cloud-forest and shrubbery at elevations of 1,200-3,400 m, mostly at 1,400-2,200 m. This species is probably more closely allied to Aglaiocercus and Taphrolesbia, and should be sought in humid or semi-arid habitat as high as 3,200 m from northwestern Venezuela to northern Peru (Kirchman et al. 2009).

    It is “Data Deficient”, not because of its species status, because they obviously agree with its “recognition as a valid taxon.” It is data deficient because we cannot mount a search for it without knowing where it came from. It might be Ecuador, it might be Peru, might be colombia, might be Venezuela …

    See, this kind of BS, where you don’t read the Red List and you want to hassle me about some bird known only from one single hundred year old skin of unknown origin, is why I said I gave the clear criteria and left it at that. I don’t care about your damn species, I gave you my criteria. You even admit that the criteria are objective and systematic, and you STILL want to yammer on about your stupid Sunangel. Move on past that one, it’s toast.

    Many islands, like Cozumel & the breeding places of great auks, are islands during interglacials, but are simply high places on dry land during the much longer glacial phases. As your study dealt with the past 500 years, this is less of a problem. Species like Bachman’s warbler, which breed on islands (Cuba in its case) but feed & spend more time on continents also constitute a grey area.

    No, they don’t constitute a “grey area”. I have given my criteria (where the birds breed) and my reasoning (because they are most vulnerable while breeding). I don’t care about your interpretation, save it for when you are writing your own paper.

    However, while I think that your distinction between island/Australian & continental species is useful, advocates of human-induced mass extinction often include the late Pleistocene/early Holocene loss of megafauna & other groups, arguably from paleolithic hunter predation (“overkill hypothesis” to explain the Quaternary extinction event). There was however a continental “island” effect, since Australia & the Americas, where humans had been absent or rare previously, suffered relatively more wipe-out than did Europe & Asia, but especially Africa, during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.

    Indeed, the “First Contact” hypothesis I have propounded explains the overwhelming majority of all extinctions in the last while.

    Lichen are fungal-photosynthetic organism symbionts, not animals, as I’m sure you are aware. Fungi are however more closely related to animals than to plants.

    If you are sure I am aware of that … so what? Even if I wasn’t aware of the details of lichen, so what? That is totally extraneous to the discussion. I don’t care how much you know, please display it somewhere else. What difference to my example of lichens does your erudite quibble make? None.

    Potential niches exist awaiting exploitation by life, which often requires evolution of other organisms first. Food & energy sources eventually are exploited.

    That makes no sense, unless you claim that most parts of the known universe are a “potential niche” for which the occupying life-form just hasn’t been invented.

    And no, energy source are not “eventually exploited”. Put some long-lived gamma ray source out there in the wild and see how many bacteria cozy up to it.

    I feel that life is inevitable in certain chemical & physical environments, in order to solve mass & energy equations under the natural laws ruling our universe. Saturn’s moon Titan offers a good test of this hypothesis.

    Great. Please don’t bother me with further wild speculation until the results of the test are posted …

    w.

  260. Mr. Eschenbach:

    Wherever the sunangel hummingbird came from, it probably wasn’t an island, but somewhere in the Andean NW of the South American continent, as indicated by its nearest relatives. Mountaintops can in effect serve as isolated islands, from an evolutionary standpoint.

    The point is that precisely six “continental” bird extinctions in the past 500 years passes the gut check no better than Wilson’s dubious numbers. We haven’t even found all the bird species, extinct or extant, living during that period. Ditto mammals.

    Breeding on offshore islands is ecologically no different from breeding in isolated habitats on continents. Remote oceanic islands & an island continent are I would agree special cases justifying a valid distinction, as with St. Helena, Indian Ocean islands like Reunion & Madagascar, the Indonesian archipelago on both sides of the Wallace Line, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific chains & Hawaii..

    Getting far off topic here, but there actually already is evidence suggestive of life processes on Titan. At least that hypothesis could explain observed phenomena there.. Or maybe NASA just wants justification for missions to the big moon.

  261. milodonharlani says:
    January 27, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Mr. Eschenbach:

    Wherever the sunangel hummingbird came from, it probably wasn’t an island, but somewhere in the Andean NW of the South American continent, as indicated by its nearest relatives. Mountaintops can in effect serve as isolated islands, from an evolutionary standpoint.

    SO WHAT???? What part of “It’s not extinct so it is not of interest to me” is unclear to you? How many ways do I need to say that your pathetic example of the Sunbird has nothing to do with my study? Let me say it real slow so you can pick up on it. You ready? I don’t want to start too soon … OK, here we go. Pay attention, I don’t want to have to repeat it again.

    Your. Meaningless. Example. Is. Not. Extinct. So. Stop. Bothering. Me. About. It.

    Got it? My study is about extinct birds. There’s thousands of birds that didn’t make the cut because they’re not listed on the Red List as being extinct. I don’t care about them. Get used to it.

    The point is that precisely six “continental” bird extinctions in the past 500 years passes the gut check no better than Wilson’s dubious numbers. We haven’t even found all the bird species, extinct or extant, living during that period. Ditto mammals.

    My numbers might be off by one or two, as I have said. Wilson’s numbers are off by several orders of magnitude. If you think mine “pass the gut check no better than Wilson’s”, then your gut needs to study grade school arithmetic. It is BECAUSE my numbers are better than Wilson’s that my research got published.

    Breeding on offshore islands is ecologically no different from breeding in isolated habitats on continents.

    If that were so, we would see equal extinction rates. Instead, we see lots of birds living on offshore islands going extinct, while those that breed on the land don’t go extinct. Who knew? Well, actually, I knew … and you didn’t. You are determined to parade your ignorance as though you were proud of it. You started out here on this thread by proving that you had not done your homework. You still haven’t done it, and that is getting real, real old.

    This is a perfect example. If you want to make a claim about extinction rates on offshore islands, you need data. Evidence. Records of extinctions.

    Instead, you show up with nothing but your big mouth full and your hands empty. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Your mouth is not enough here, this is a science site.

    Remote oceanic islands & an island continent are I would agree special cases justifying a valid distinction, as with St. Helena, Indian Ocean islands like Reunion & Madagascar, the Indonesian archipelago on both sides of the Wallace Line, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific chains & Hawaii..

    Agreed.

    Getting far off topic here, but there actually already is evidence suggestive of life processes on Titan. At least that hypothesis could explain observed phenomena there.. Or maybe NASA just wants justification for missions to the big moon.

    I asked you already to not bother me until you find the life on Titan. Instead, here you are again babbling mindlessly about your fantasies. I’m not interested in the slightest. DO NOT BOTHER ME ABOUT TITAN UNTIL YOU FIND LIFE, because until then it’s just more of your big mouth, and I’m way tired of that.

    I can go over that more slowly if you need me to.

    w.

  262. Willis, I like to suggest a very down-to-earth explanation why there are no corpses.

    We human have grown exponentially, but we are still one and the same species, occupying our own “human niche” in nature, now for say 200.000 years. So the big shift in nature as far as our niche concerns was 200.000 years ago. Not now.

    All that has happened lately is population growth, and yes of course, more resources being used. But essentially our niche in nature didn’t change by the high numbers because, evolutionary speaking we didn’t change. So we didn’t push other species out of their niche either. We are mainly causing shifts in quantities within species. So “no corpses”.

    For us humans the niche we occupy may seem “everything there is in the world”, but you may expect nature has more to offer to the other creatures than we can see or realize.

  263. A survey of the literature indicates that in the last 100 years we have lost 6 mammal and bird species, none to climate change, In the meantime we have found 15 species that we had thought were extinct. So, we are up 9.

    Predictions of species extinctions are based on abused and flawed computer models. In one case a program for estimating the validity of small area sampling relative to the biodiversity of a forest was essentially run backwards and misused to generate extinction predictions. In another case, a program was written that predicted how many species that we have never detected will go extinct before we ever detect them. It’s sort of like they never existed? Just make up any number and use it for input.

    Warming does not kill species. Cold kills. The best example is the warming of a mountain. The alarmists like to claim that warming drives species upward and eventually the top species will go extinct. In the real world, however, species do move up, but they also do not abandon where they were, resulting in more overlap in the species present. The result is that with warming biodiversity rises and extinction is even less of a chance than before. Cooling on the other hand, moves all species to the valley floor, increasing competition and increasing the chance of extinctions.

    When there is a heat wave in places such as Paris, there is a wave of deaths, followed by a period of fewer deaths as the heat simply killed off a bit earlier people who were already one foot in the grave. In contrast, a cold snap that kills people does not show a following lull in the death rate. Cold kills healthy people.

    The meme that everything about warmer climate is bad completely ignores that all previous warm periods have been times of plenty and flourishing civilizations for mankind. So, why would warming be bad now? Because there is a political agenda that needs it to be so to achieve its goals.

  264. Another thought-provoking article, Willis. Thanks. But I have a quibbling logic problem with the headline over this piece. “Trust your gut instinct” in the imperative impels each of us to do something that is plainly unwarranted for many. If you’d have said “Trust MY gut instincts” or even more accurately, “Trust Willis Eschebach’s gut instincts,” that would have been better, IMO. ;-)

    It’s so amazingly ironic that the would-be managers of sustainability are frequently so terrible at recognizing it, or natural variability in general, in all it’s complex (and sometimes tragic) wonder. But maybe it’s less curious when we consider that their first objective is to gain the appointment.

  265. Because Mickey Reno brought up the issue of Head vs. Gut and which of them we can trust, I can’t help but refer you to a talk by one of my heroes where our predicament is so brilliantly analysed. The first 13 minutes of it are extremely pertinent to this discussion, as well as to a few adjacent threads, but there are also scattered bits of wisdom offered further on, if you are patient.

    Douglas Crockford, ladies and gents:

  266. Mickey Reno says:
    January 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Another thought-provoking article, Willis. Thanks. But I have a quibbling logic problem with the headline over this piece. “Trust your gut instinct” in the imperative impels each of us to do something that is plainly unwarranted for many. If you’d have said “Trust MY gut instincts” or even more accurately, “Trust Willis Eschebach’s gut instincts,” that would have been better, IMO. ;-)

    Thanks, Mickey. If we as humans could not trust our gut instincts, we’d have gone extinct long ago. The problem is that far too often we are beguiled by shiny things. How many times have you read about a crime victim who said “I had a feeling that something was wrong, but went ahead anyway …”

    So yes, I do encourage everyone to trust their gut instincts. Doesn’t mean they’re right, any more than the “smell test” is right, sometimes it’s gouda cheese, but I definitely pay attention to those things.

    The problem, as always, is separating them from the swirl of chaos that passes for our internal processes …

    w.

  267. Steve P:
    I reject your claim about near extinction of piebald eagles from North America. They remained common on the coast of BC and in the interior of BC. I saw one on a railway track near Highway 16 between Prince George and Smithers., for example, and my logging friends saw many.

    There’s much nonsense peddled about populations, often failure to look as has been pointed out by Tim Ball among others. For example, the fiasco over the Irawhadhi Dolphin – alarmists didn’t look in the country next door to where they claimed the only ones were, then someone discovered even more further away – instead of a few hundred there really are several thousand or more. Some people say that Spotted Owls – who’ve been used by tree worshippers to stop logging old growth forest west of the Cascade mountains in WA – also live on the east side of the mountains, and have been seen nesting in signs. (Probable reason is availability of food such as feral rabbits and rodents, which wildlife experts say is why Cooper’s Hawks are common in the city of Victoria BC.) Airport people tell of bird control methods failing because the birds figure out there is no actual threat.

    Different naming is also a good point. Some idiots in southern Vancouver Island claim Arbutus and Garry Oak trees are unique to southern VI, when a simple bit of research reveals that south of that artificial line on maps the trees can’t read they are called Madrona and Oregon Oak respectively. (People in the Vancouver BC area will be ROFL at the claim about Arbutus, which is common there. I’ve even seen them on VI where alarmists claim they won’t grow – in forests with other trees.)

  268. Pat Moffi, excellent point about new species emerging.
    There’s also mixing, known to occur with birds at the interface between areas, I predict will happen with Great Blue Herons. Populations in SE BC and SW BC are considered different by some people due modest differences in size and colouring. However they are mixing (perhaps long have, just more studying recently), some SE BC ones have figured out they don’t have to migrate south – they can come west instead, some SW BC ones have figured out that feeding can be good in SE BC.

    And in today’s news in BC that the BC government is shooting barred owls to facilitate introduction of spotted owls raised in captivity, as supposedly there are only 10 left in the wild, is that they’ve been inter-breeding. Gosh, says I, the government should celebrate the diversity of a new species – the Barred-Spotted Owl.

    I’ve spouted before about the incompetence and dishonesty of environmentalists, who in referencing a research paper to support their claim that human presence would reduce heron populations ignored that the same paper pointed to nearby examples of herons habituating to humans. (Examples well known to the environmentalists.)

    And there’s an “oops” in those claims that salmon from different rivers are distinct – wildlife experts say that salmon sometimes spawn in a different river, notably if water conditions aren’t good in the one they were born in. (Apparently some varieties of salmon are more adaptable than others. Varieties being coho, sockeye, etc. Today’s trick quiz on spawning is: “What type of salmon are kokanee’ and ‘steelhead’?)

  269. Years ago, when “An Inconvenient Truth” appeared, I had this gut feeling it was a fraud. The whole show smelled messy from the start, so I never even looked at it. But in other cases I may be wrong and I would need my “System 2″ Kahneman talks about in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (Gene Selkov: thanks for the link).

  270. The wingnut lost me at this: “You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species,”

    Not if they can’t adapt or survive. Someone was napping during the chapters on evolution.

  271. Keith Sketchley says:
    January 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    … And there’s an “oops” in those claims that salmon from different rivers are distinct – wildlife experts say that salmon sometimes spawn in a different river, notably if water conditions aren’t good in the one they were born in. (Apparently some varieties of salmon are more adaptable than others. Varieties being coho, sockeye, etc. …

    I’ve fished salmon commercially off California and in the Bering Sea, and have worked as a sport salmon fishing guide on the mighty Kenai river in Alaska, which looks like this …

    Here is how I figure the numbers. In my short foray into silver refining, I learned the term “four nines pure”. This means 99.9999% pure silver. Suppose that salmon do that well. Suppose they are “four nines”, that 99.9999% of them return to the same spot to spawn.

    This is how the numbers work out. There’s a kind of salmon (as you know but others might not) called “reds”, or “sockeye salmon” from “sakai”, some local word for “red”. Last year, about two million! sockeye salmon returned to the Kenai river. If those suckers are four nines pure, that means that there are two Kenai salmon off in some other river spawning with some foreign salmon babes and dudes … because one thing’s for sure. Once it’s time to spawn, they head upriver. They won’t stop going upriver just because they find they’re in the wrong one.

    In addition, as you point out, if their spawning site is destroyed by e.g. a landslide, they don’t commit suicide. They search until they either find another suitable spot and spawn, or they die. Life is staggeringly tenacious.

    All the best,

    w.

  272. Good article Willis. I would guess most species that ever existed are now extinct. Given the depth of time in the past we could probably never catch up to/ exceed the past extinctions. One quibble, why attach significance to grasping the ‘nettle’ or not, ouch.

  273. Willis,
    This just in. No mention of global warming.

    Study suggests outdoor cats kill nearly 4 billion birds each year in U.S.
    New research suggests that as many as 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals are killed in the United States each year by outdoor cats.

    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/01/29/New-study-says-outdoor-cats-are-serious-killers.html

    Anthropogenic threats, such as collisions with man-made structures, vehicles, poisoning and predation by domestic pets, combine to kill billions of wildlife annually. Free-ranging domestic cats have been introduced globally and have contributed to multiple wildlife extinctions on islands. The magnitude of mortality they cause in mainland areas remains speculative, with large-scale estimates based on non-systematic analyses and little consideration of scientific data. Here we conduct a systematic review and quantitatively estimate mortality caused by cats in the United States. We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals. Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact.

    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v4/n1/full/ncomms2380.html

  274. Keith Sketchley says:
    January 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Steve P:
    I reject your claim about near extinction of piebald eagles from North America.

    Yes Keith, you are correct. I was wrong on that point, and in general, apologies to all for some hurried and rather poorly presented posts of late.

    I should have said:

    We know that birds like Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles in N. America the conterminous United States were just about extirpated, most likely because of toxins in the environment, although there is disagreement, I believe, about precisely which toxin(s) were responsible…
    and
    Whatever it was that just about cleared (Bald) Eagles and (Peregrine) Falcons from the skies of N. America the contiguous United States, it was not hunting shooting.

    And on this last point about shooting, apparently I have been perhaps more than just a little naive about how much shooting of raptors has occured.
    At any rate, Bald Eagles have been protected since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, and Endangered Species Act of 1973 (since removed). According to Wikipedia (FWIW), Bald Eagles increased from 417 to 11,040 pairs between 1963 and 2007; removed from list 2007. Peregrine Falcons increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000, and also was removed from list of endangered species in 1999. The Wiki article did not specify to which regions the above numbers apply. The RSPB has estimated that there are 1,402 breeding pairs (of PF) in the UK (Wiki again).

  275. “””””…..The dictionary and the Red List and the CREO all use the same definition that I (and many others here) use. Here you go (emphasis mine):

    ex·tinct
    /ikˈstiNG(k)t/
    Adjective
    1. (of a species, family, or other larger group) Having no living members.
    2. No longer in existence.
    Synonyms
    dead – defunct…….”””””””

    Well some species are simply immune from extinction !

    One very common species, living all over America is totally extinction immune.

    If you killed every last one of them on the planet; and also aborted any of them that might be in gestation, so that there are none living or soon to be, that would satisfy the above definition of extinct.

    But in ten years, there would be just as many of them as there are today; you can’t get rid of them.

    I don’t know the official latin taxonomic name for the species; but the common colloquial generic name is:

    ” Mule “

  276. Steve Keohane says:
    January 29, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Good article Willis. I would guess most species that ever existed are now extinct.

    I put the number at more than 99% extinct.

    Given the depth of time in the past we could probably never catch up to/ exceed the past extinctions. One quibble, why attach significance to grasping the ‘nettle’ or not, ouch.

    To “grasp the nettle” is an idiom for fully accepting and coming to terms with some unpleasant fact. I used it to indicate that they don’t want to accept what from their perspective are unpleasant facts, which are:

    a) the species-area relationship doesn’t work for beans to predict extinctions, and

    b) other than extinctions by introduced “alien” species in historically isolated areas, there’ve been hardly any extinctions at all. They are quite rare. The idea that we’re in a “Sixth Wave” is nothing but hyperbole.

    Neither of those ideas, that “species-area” doesn’t work and extinctions are rare absent introduced species, are politically correct or popular in the scientific community … which is why I said that the authors haven’t “grasped the nettle”.

    w.

  277. Jimbo says:
    January 29, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Willis,
    This just in. No mention of global warming.

    Study suggests outdoor cats kill nearly 4 billion birds each year in U.S.
    New research suggests that as many as 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals are killed in the United States each year by outdoor cats.

    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/01/29/New-study-says-outdoor-cats-are-serious-killers.html

    Thanks, Jimbo. Among the introduced species, cats, or what I refer to as “house tigers”, are one of the more deadly … again, however, we come up against island vs. continent. In North America, the ecological niche occupied by the house cat was previously occupied by the bobcat, so the introduction of the house cat didn’t make a huge difference to the lives of say small birdies …

    On islands with no historical small feline predators, however, they have wreaked untold damage.

    w.

  278. george e. smith says:
    January 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm (Edit)

    “””””…..The dictionary and the Red List and the CREO all use the same definition that I (and many others here) use. Here you go (emphasis mine):

    ex·tinct
    /ikˈstiNG(k)t/
    Adjective
    1. (of a species, family, or other larger group) Having no living members.
    2. No longer in existence.
    Synonyms
    dead – defunct…….”””””””

    Well some species are simply immune from extinction !

    One very common species, living all over America is totally extinction immune.

    If you killed every last one of them on the planet; and also aborted any of them that might be in gestation, so that there are none living or soon to be, that would satisfy the above definition of extinct.

    But in ten years, there would be just as many of them as there are today; you can’t get rid of them.

    I don’t know the official latin taxonomic name for the species; but the common colloquial generic name is:

    ” Mule “

    I realize this is at least in part for humor, but there’s a problem. If a mule were a species, you’d be right. You got the definition of “extinct”, now let’s have at least a brief stab at “species”, although there are lots of definitions, but here’s the common one:

    species plural of spe·cies (Noun)
    Noun
    A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.

    Since mules can’t do dat (interbreed or exchange genes), they are not a species, and thus they can’t go extinct … but I liked your puzzle all the same.

    Thanks,

    w.

    PS—DON’T bother me with other more nuanced definitions of species, or with the million exceptions to the general species rule. I know about that stuff, I join in the debate between the lumpers and the splitters as a reasonably knowledgeable participant. I’ve never heard of a rule under which mules count as a species …

  279. Thanks Willis, your definition makes sense, nettles are a nasty plant to deal with. If I recall, Arrhenius was into species population estimates.

  280. Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    In North America, the ecological niche occupied by the house cat was previously occupied by the bobcat, so the introduction of the house cat didn’t make a huge difference to the lives of say small birdies ….

    Except that the bobcat is still around.

    The study referenced above, by Jimbo (January 29, 2013 at 10:38 am) was just published on 1/29/2013., whereas your fine article appeared here on 1/25, but perhaps you’d had an advance peek at the paper, The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States (Loss, Will, Marra), and have considered its upwardly revised estimates of house cat predation in your calculations.

  281. “..1962-63, when the freeze began on Boxing Day, gripped all of Britain, and did not begin to thaw until the first week of March. It was estimated that half the birds of Britain died in the cold; the Dartford warbler population was slashed by 98 per cent, wrens by nearly 80 per cent and over much of the country, kingfishers were extirpated.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/experts-fear-count-will-reveal-a-deadly-winter-for-birds-1880890.html

  282. Steve P says:
    January 30, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    January 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    In North America, the ecological niche occupied by the house cat was previously occupied by the bobcat, so the introduction of the house cat didn’t make a huge difference to the lives of say small birdies ….

    Except that the bobcat is still around.

    Indeed they are, and I didn’t say different. I said there was already a small feline predator on the scene so the arrival of house cats didn’t make much difference. I hold to that.

    The study referenced above, by Jimbo (January 29, 2013 at 10:38 am) was just published on 1/29/2013., whereas your fine article appeared here on 1/25, but perhaps you’d had an advance peek at the paper, The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States (Loss, Will, Marra), and have considered its upwardly revised estimates of house cat predation in your calculations.

    My friend, as noted above, I study and write scientific papers on the causes of extinctions, and cats are up there on the list. I own a cat, I watch it hunt every day. We used to have a tribe of feral cats living in the neighborhood as well. Previous estimates of house cat predation have foolishly assumed that they brought all of their kills home to eat … far from true. For years I have referred to them as “house tigers” to remind people that they are serious killing machines … and now you want to school me on the subject?

    Take it to someone who doesn’t know that … they have upwardly revised their estimates of the lethality of house cats, and now they are in the range of where my estimates have been for some years now.

    w.

  283. Ulric Lyons says:
    February 6, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    “..1962-63, when the freeze began on Boxing Day, gripped all of Britain, and did not begin to thaw until the first week of March. It was estimated that half the birds of Britain died in the cold; the Dartford warbler population was slashed by 98 per cent, wrens by nearly 80 per cent and over much of the country, kingfishers were extirpated.”

    And there you have the difference in too much heat and too much cold, friends. Heat exhausts, and mortality rises because the weakest succumb. Usually, that’s matched by a following drop in mortality, since they just died early, not unexpectedly. If you drink lots of liquids and stay in the shade you’ll be alright.

    But when you cross the magic line of the phase change of water, even the hardiest and the strongest of kingfishers and humans can unexpectedly turn into tiny bird-shaped or large human-shaped ice cubes …

    w.

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