Where Are The Corpses?

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Abstract

The record of continental (as opposed to island) bird and mammal extinctions in the last five centuries was analyzed to determine if the “species-area” relationship actually works to predict extinctions. Very few continental birds or mammals are recorded as having gone extinct, and none have gone extinct from habitat reduction alone. No continental forest bird or mammal is recorded as having gone extinct from any cause. Since the species-area relationship predicts that there should have been a very large number of recorded bird and mammal extinctions from habitat reduction over the last half millennium, I show that the species-area relationship gives erroneous answers to the question of extinction rates.

Figure 1. The Object of My Quest — The Corpse of an Extinct Bird

Background

A recent study in Nature [Thomas 2004] stated that 37% of all species might soon go extinct because of habitat reduction due to global warming. This same prediction of impending mass extinctions from habitat reduction due to global warming has been made a number of times recently, for example in a book by Professor Michael Benton of Bristol University (Benton 2003), as well as in studies by Parmesan and Yohe (Parmesan 2003) and Root et al. (Root 2003).

Habitat reduction has also been cited as being responsible for the continuing extinction of species which is said to have already happened due to the cutting down and fragmentation of tropical forests (Wilson 1995, 2001). For example, a recent study in Conservation Biology (Harris 2004) opens by saying that “Intense deforestation causes massive species losses.” Wilson says that due to habitat reduction we are in the “sixth great wave of extinctions”, comparable in size to the five previous great waves of extinctions in geological time. (Wilson 1992).

Reading these kinds of claims over and over again made me think, “Well, if there’s been all of those claimed extinctions of birds and mammals … where are all the corpses? What are the names of all the extinct birds and mammals”? This research paper investigates these claims that habitat reduction from temperature change and deforestation has led and will continue to lead to the extinction of a large number of species.

A few clarifications are in order.

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.

Methods

In their seminal work, “The Theory of Island Biogeography”, Macarthur and Wilson further explored the “species-area” relationship (Macarthur 1963). This relationship, first stated mathematically by Arrhenius in 1920, relates the number of species found to the area surveyed as a power law of the form S = C * a ^ z , where “S” is species count, “C” is a constant, “a” is habitat area, and “z” is the power variable (typically .15 to .3 for forests). In other words, the number of species found in a given area is seen to increase as some power of the area examined.

By surveys both on and off islands, this relationship has been generally verified. It also passes the reasonability test — for example, we would expect to find more species in a state than we find in any one county in that state.

Does this species-area relationship work in reverse? That is to say, if the area of a forest is reduced, does the number of species in the forest decrease as well? And in particular, does this predicted reduction in species represent species actually going extinct? One of the authors of “Island Biogeography” thinks so. In 1992, E. O. Wilson wrote that because of the 1% annual area loss of forest habitat worldwide, using what he called “maximally optimistic” species/ area calculations, “The number of species doomed [to extinction] each year is 27,000. Each day it is 74, and each hour 3.” (Wilson 1992).

If we have lost 27,000 species per year since 1992, that’s over 300,000 species gone extinct. In addition, Wilson said that this rate of forest loss had been going on since 1980, so that gives us a claim of over well over half a million species lost forever in 24 years, a very large number.

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.

There are many different estimates of species loss, varying by orders of magnitude. I have seen extinction claims as high as “one species per minute” (over half a million extinctions per year, 10 million species extinct in 20 years) quoted in a number of places. However, I wanted facts, not estimates.

There are two main lists used by scientists to keep track of the facts of extinction. One is the “Red List”, maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which lists species which are either extinct or at risk of extinction. The Red List database can be searched online at redlist.org.

The other is the CREO list, from the Committee on Recently Extinct Organisms at the American Museum of Natural History. Their database is online at creo.amnh.org. The CREO has established very clear criteria for declaring a species extinct, not extinct, or unresolved. The criteria include precise definitions for such things as adequate taxonomy (including DNA comparisons if available), sufficient hypodigm (actual specimens of the species), and adequate surveying of the species’ habitat to verify extinction. Starting afresh, they have then uniformly applied these criteria to the historical record of purported extinctions of mammals and fish in the last 500 years.

The conclusions of the CREO list are noted in the Red List, and vice versa. Although the two lists are very similar, I find the CREO list to be more thoroughly investigated and more uniformly and scientifically based than the Red List, so I have used it for mammal extinctions (it does not yet cover birds).

Timing and Size of the Extinctions

The bulk of the extinctions took place in several waves, as Europeans expanded outwards in successive centuries. Island after island has seen specialized native species driven extinct by imported species. These invader driven extinctions peaked in about 1900, but are still going on.

Figure 2 – Stacked graph of the historical extinction rates for birds (grey) and mammals (black). 17 year Gaussian average of the data from Red List (birds) and CREO (mammals). Note the peak rate of 1.6 bird and mammal extinctions per year, and the most recent rate of 0.2 extinctions per year.

Figure 2 shows see the complete record of every known bird and mammal extinction. In general, the timing reflects the various phases of the expansion of a variety of European species, including humans. Starting from the Caribbean extinctions in the 1500’s, extinctions continue through the age of exploration in the 1700’s and the colonial period of the 1800s. This wave of “alien species” extinctions peaked around 1900 at 1.6 extinctions per year. Extinction rates have dropped since then, with the most recent value being 0.2 extinctions per year.

Wilson’s claim that 27,000 extinctions per year have been occurring since at least 1980 means that there should be 26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year, a total of 39 bird and mammal extinctions per year.

The historical extinction rate, however, has never been greater than 1.8 per year, far below the 39 extinctions per year claimed. In addition, the most recent rate is lower than it has been since about 1830. Looking at the entire bird and mammal extinction record, there is no sign of the hundreds of extinctions that Wilson says have already occurred.

I was not interested, however, in all of the mammal and bird extinctions. In particular, I was not interested in mammals and birds that had gone extinct on islands from the introduction of alien species. I was looking for Wilson’s predicted extinctions, those due to habitat reduction.

So I divided all of the extinctions into two groups. The first group is the extinction of those species living on isolated islands or on Australia, where species were (and still are) easily driven to extinction by the depredations of imported dogs, foxes, mongoose, rats, human hunters, goats, pigs, snails, cats, sparrows, frogs, starlings, and various plants, as well as the usual assortment of imported human, animal, and plant diseases. I will call this group of extinctions “island” extinctions. Please don’t write to tell me Australia is not an island. It is grouped with the islands because of the nature of the extinctions there, which were caused by imported alien species.

The second group is the extinction of the continental species, the mass of the world’s species, those species that live on the continents (Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and Antarctica.) I will call this group “continental” extinctions.

It is not widely appreciated how much island extinctions have dominated the total record of extinctions. Here are the extinct mammal species, showing island extinctions and continental extinctions:

Count of Extinct Mammal Species

Island vs. Continental                      Country   Total

Extinct Island Mammal Species            Various       58

Extinct Continental Mammal Species     Mexico       1

Extinct Continental Mammal Species   Algeria          1

Extinct Continental Mammal Species South Africa  1

Extinct Continental Mammal Species    Subtotal       3

Grand Total Extinct Mammal Species                          61

Data – http://creo.amnh.org

Of the 4,428 known mammal species (Red List 2004) living in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and Antarctica, only three mammals have gone extinct in the last 500 years. These were the Bluebuck antelope, South Africa; the Algerian gazelle, Algeria; and the Omilteme cottontail rabbit, Mexico.

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. Based on where the birds breed, here’s how the data from the Red List divides out between continental and island bird extinctions:

Count of Extinct Bird Species

Island vs. Continental                      Country   Total

Extinct Island Bird Species              Various     123

Extinct Continental Bird Species    Mexico          1

Extinct Continental Bird Species  Guatemala     1

Extinct Continental Bird Species   Colombia       1

Extinct Continental Bird Species      US                 2

Extinct Continental Bird Species  Canada, US    1

Extinct Continental Bird Species Total                  6

Grand Total Extinct Bird Species                         129

Data – http://www.redlist.org

We see the same pattern with birds as with mammals. Of the 128 extinct bird species, 122 of them were island extinctions. Of the 8,971 known continental bird species (Red List 2004), 6 have gone extinct.

Looking at the reasons for the continental bird and mammal extinctions, in chronological order we have:

Bluebuck, Hippotragus leucophaeus, 1800 – Red List says ” … hunted by European settlers throughout the 1700s. The last of the species was killed around 1800.”

Labrador Duck, Camptorhynchus labradorius, 1878 – “Shooting and trapping on the winter quarters were certainly proximate factors in the species’ extinction. Overharvest of birds and eggs on the breeding grounds could also have been a factor.” (Red List)

Algerian gazelle, Gazela Rufina, 1894 – Reason for extinction unknown, this species known only from an adult male skull and a flat skin. (CREO)

Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, 1904 – Hunted for food and for the millinery trade, killed for crop protection and because it competed with bees. Also said to be affected by deforestation. (Red List)

Slender-billed Grackle, Quiscalus palustris, 1910 – “It had a small distribution in the Lerma marshlands, in the state of México, Mexico … last recorded in 1910, and presumably became extinct soon after as a result of the draining of its tule-cattail and sedge habitat.” (Red List)

Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, 1914 – “… Newcastle disease, extensive hunting, and the breakdown of social facilitation”, plus a reduction in food supply (Red List).

Colombian Grebe, Podiceps andinus, 1950s – ” … wetland drainage, siltation, pesticide pollution, disruption by reed harvesting, hunting and predation by introduced rainbow trout Salmo gairdneri.” (Red List)

Atitlán Grebe, Podilymbus gigas, 1986 (found only on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala) – “Its population dropped from c. 200 to 80 as a result of competition and predation by large-mouth bass Micropterus salmoides, introduced into the lake in 1960, but recovered to a high of 232 in 1975 when the numbers of bass plummeted. However, increasing pressure on breeding sites from local reed-cutting and from tourism development, along with the murder of the government game warden for the national park during the political unrest of 1982 and falling lake levels following the earthquake of 1976, drove the population down to 30 by 1983, and extinction by 1986. Drowning in gill nets and disturbance by increasing boat traffic have also been suggested as contributory factors.” (Red List)

(Interestingly, this bird has since been replaced on Lake Atitlan by a similar grebe of the same genus, P. podiceps. In fact, there is significant disagreement among biologists about whether Podilymbus gigas is just a subspecies of P. podiceps, but I have included it to be on the safe side.)

Omilteme cottontail rabbit, Sylvilagus insonus, 1991 – Reason for extinction unknown, species known only from 3 specimens collected in 1991. (CREO)

What can we conclude from this record of extinctions?

1)  When European species met isolated local species, a number of the local species died. The Australian and island species were extremely vulnerable to pressure from imported humans, mammals, birds, plants, and diseases. 95% of all recorded bird and mammal extinctions are island or Australian species.

2)  When the European species arrived, Australia and most islands had been separated from the continents for forty million years or so. The initial introduction of European species into island habitats was a one-time event. While alien species will always a problem for islands, this massive onslaught of the first coming of the European species will never be repeated — there are no places left with forty million years of isolation.

3)   Total habitat destruction drove one bird to extinction.

4)  While habitat reduction has been claimed as contributing (in an unknown degree) to three continental bird extinctions, to date no continental mammal or bird has been seen to go extinct due to habitat reduction alone.

Three continental mammals have gone extinct — one antelope hunted to extinction, and a rare rabbit and a rarer antelope gone from unknown causes.

Six continental birds have gone extinct — 3 prolific terrestrial bird species hunted to extinction, and 3 single-habitat freshwater bird species hunted, drained dry, eaten by fish, and polluted to extinction.

This historical record of 9 continental extinctions in 500 years contrasts starkly with Wilson’s predictions of over thirty continental bird and mammal extinctions per year, each and every year. Even if his numbers were off by an order of magnitude, we should be seeing more than 3 continental extinctions per year from habitat reduction since at least 1900, which totals around 300 continental extinctions. We simply have not seen those extinctions, in fact there’s only 9 continental extinctions in the 500 year record.

Finally, let us examine Wilson’s claim that due to forest habitat reduction, “The number of species doomed each year is 27,000.” (Wilson 1992)

Bird species make up about .1% of all species, and mammal species are about .05% of all species (IUCN 2000). Using Wilson’s figure of 10 million total species, he is claiming about 16 continental bird extinctions (27,000 species doomed times 8,433 continental bird species per 10,000,000 species) and 11 continental mammal extinctions (27,000 species doomed times 3,921 continental mammal species per 10,000,000 species) per year, for a total of 34 predicted continental bird and mammal extinctions per year. (I have used Wilson’s figure of 10 million species on earth, although modern estimates vary. Using Wilson’s figure allows the total number of species to cancel out in the calculation.)

In 1988, Wilson said that a 40% reduction in forest habitats had already occurred (Wilson 1988). Using Wilson’s “maximally optimistic” z value of .15 and his 1% annual forest loss, with 40% habitat reduction in 1988, the total species loss to up to 1998 should be 1,088 continental bird and mammal extinctions. Over a thousand continental bird and mammal extinctions predicted, and not one of them shows up in the record.

Wilson’s Explanations of the Discrepancy

Professor Wilson has offered two explanations for the discrepancy between his predictions of massive extinctions and the lack of corresponding extinctions in the historical record. His explanations are:

1)  That it is not known whether species have gone extinct recently, as species cannot be declared extinct for 50 years.

2)  That the species do not go extinct immediately, but can take up to 100 years to die out.

Regarding the first explanation, Wilson has written: “To declare a species officially extinct, not only does a species have to be known to science and absent from captive populations, but the World Conservation Union (IUCN) demands that the ‘species (is) not definitely located in the wild during the last 50 years’ (Collar et al. 1992, p. 1025). This is an extremely conservative criterion, particularly when indirect evidence strongly indicates that extinction rates are accelerating.” (Wilson 2001)

However, this 50 year criterion is not used by the IUCN, nor by CREO. For example, as quoted above, the IUCN Red List 2000 showed the last Atitlan Grebe dying in 1986. The data source for the listing is “BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Editions”. This means that the species was declared extinct by the IUCN only 14 years after the last Atitlan Grebe died. And the CREO lists the most recent mammal extinction as occurring in 1991, only a nine-year lag.

If Wilson’s criteria were used, there could be no extinctions in the IUCN Red List 2000 where the species was last recorded later than 1950. But in fact, there are 10 birds and 5 mammals in the Red List 2000 that were last recorded after 1950. Thus Wilson’s first explanation is not correct.

Professor Wilson’s other explanation for the lack of predicted extinctions is that they do not happen at once. He says that the “species in a reduced habitat may take from 25 to 100 years to go extinct”, and that research has shown that the rate of these delayed extinctions drops off exponentially with time (Wilson 2001). While this seems plausible, even if it were true it wouldn’t keep us from seeing the predicted extinctions.

We can see why by applying the exponential die-off to the 1,088 bird and mammal extinctions said to have occurred by 1998. Let’s assume all 1,088 of them fatally lost habitat at some point since 1948, but they won’t die out for 100 years. 1,088 species lost in 50 years (1948-1998), that works out to 21.76 per year, about 22 species “doomed to extinction” each year since 1948.

With exponential decay, to still have one species of 100 left alive after 100 years, the exponent needs to be 1 – (1/100)^(1/100), or .045. This means that 4.5% of the remaining doomed species should go extinct each year.

But if we had doomed 22 bird and mammal species to extinction every year since 1948, and only 4.5% of the doomed species went extinct each year, then by 1960, of the 261 predicted eventual bird and mammal extinctions, we should have seen 65 extinctions. By 1980, of 696 predicted eventual extinctions, we should have seen 340. And by the year 1998, of the 1,088 extinctions predicted by species-area calculations, we should have seen 672 actual extinctions of continental birds and mammals.

We have seen none. Even if Wilson’s predictions were off by an order of magnitude, we still should have seen 67 extinctions from habitat reduction since 1948. We have seen none.

Pimm et. al. (Pimm 1995) argues that extinctions in eastern North America support the species-area relationship. His findings are marred by several inconvenient facts. First, according to the Red List, two of the four extinct species he cites (Ivory Billed Woodpecker and Bachman’s Warbler) are not listed as extinct.

Second, the other two species (Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet) were not just eastern forest dwellers, but ranged widely over both forest and fields. Birdlife International says of the Carolina Parakeet “Birds were wide-ranging but their typical habitat was cypress and sycamore trees along rivers and swamps.” It describes the Passenger Pigeon’s habitat as ” Ectopistes migratorius was found in forest in eastern and central Canada and the USA, occasionally wandering south to Mexico and Cuba.”

Third, and most important, both the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon were extensively hunted. The Passenger Pigeon in particular was subjected to what was possibly the most concentrated hunting of any known bird. The Carolina Parakeet, the only North American parakeet, was hunted for its valuable bright feathers. No bird species could survive that type of intense hunting. Claiming that these extinctions were caused by habitat loss ignores the main cause, hunting.

The Atlantic Coastal Forest records also contradict Pimm’s claims. The cutting of the Atlantic Coastal Forest in Brazil has been going on for decades, with over half of the forest cut down by 1960 (Mendonça, 1994), and only 10% of the forest currently remaining (Harris, 2004). There are 179 endemic bird species in the forest, according to Pimm and Harris (Harris, 2004). From this 90% deforestation, the species-area relationship predicts 52 bird species doomed to extinction. Including the 100-year exponential decay, we should have already seen some 25 birds go extinct in the Atlantic Coastal Forest, with 27 more to come. In fact, no birds from the Atlantic Coastal Forest are recorded as having gone extinct, and only one bird (Alagoas Curassow) from the Atlantic Coastal Forest is extinct in the wild. (The fate of the Alagoas Curassow is not surprising, and once again is not related to habitat but to hunting. Because it is a very large bird, almost a metre tall, and has always been heavily hunted for food, Birdlife International says, “The extinction of this species was forecast almost as long ago as its discovery”. And that’s been a while, as Linnaeus first scientifically described it in 1740.)

Harris and Pimm (Harris, 2004) further argue that the species-area relationship predictions for the Atlantic Coastal Forest are validated by the fact that a number of birds of the forest are threatened with extinction, but this is a circular argument – many of these birds are listed as threatened with extinction solely because of reduced habitat.

While scientists might have missed a few of the predicted extinctions, the odds of them missing every one of these hundreds of claimed extinctions are nonexistent. These are birds and mammals, the most studied and best-known classes of animals on earth. Yet after all of the habitat reduction in all continents in 500 years, we have only seen 9 continental mammal or bird extinctions. There is no sign of the hundreds of bird and mammal extinctions predicted by the species-area relationship.

Red List Birds

Wilson says his estimates are supported by “The velocity of passage of species through the categories in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, from less endangered to extinct.” (Wilson 2001)

This claim creates an image of thirty birds or so moving a step towards extinction each year. But this is not the case for two reasons — the change in the count of birds at risk is far too small for this to be true, and the number of birds in the highest risk category (Critically Endangered) has actually decreased. Figure 3 shows the velocity of passage of all bird species through the Red List from 2000 to 2004. There is no significant change in the numbers of birds in any category.

Figure 3. Red List Birds By Category, 2000-2004. None of the categories have changed significantly since the first records in 2000. Vulnerable and Endangered birds have increased slightly, although part of this may be because habitat reduction is incorrectly considered as a major threat. Extinctions are unchanged at 129. Extinct in the Wild increased by 1. The number of Critically Endangered birds has decreased by 3 since 2000, one bird moving towards extinction and two birds moving away from extinction.

Forest Bird and Mammal Extinctions

Finally, here is what I consider the most surprising fact to emerge from my research. In all the continents, we have never seen a single forest bird or mammal go extinct from any cause whatsoever. None of the nine extinct continental birds and animals was a forest dweller.

This unexpected lack of continental forest bird and mammal extinctions can easily be verified by searching the online Red List. Go to http://www.redlist.org/search/search-expert.php?kingname=ANIMALIA&phyname=CHORDATA&claname=AVES. Select “Forest” as the habitat, “Extinct” as the category, and all areas of the world except Oceania and the Caribbean as the location. The search will reveal only three Hawaiian island forest birds. The same search can be done for mammals (replace AVES in the URL with MAMMALIA), and reveals the same pattern – the only extinctions listed are five island forest bats. In all of the continental forests of the world, here has never been a single recorded bird or mammal extinction.

This lack of even one continental forest bird or mammal extinction, in a record encompassing 500 years of massive cutting, burning, harvesting, inundating, clearing, and general widespread destruction and fragmentation of forests on all of the continents of the world, provides a final and clear proof that the species-area relationship simply does not work to predict extinctions.

Summary of Methods

Reliance on the species-area relationship’s predictions of extinctions is an accepted tenet of the biological and ecological sciences. I, on the other hand, say it doesn’t work. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I have therefore presented four separate lines of evidence establishing the failure of the species-area relationship to predict extinctions:

1)  Current Overall Extinction Rates — The most recent total bird and mammal extinction rate in all parts of the world, both islands and continents, is about 0.2 extinctions per year (see Fig. 1). This is down from a peak of about 1.6 extinctions per year a century ago. There is no sign of the nearly 40 bird and mammal extinctions per year predicted by the species-area relationship. Nor is there a rise in the rates — in fact, they have generally fallen for the last hundred years, while habitat destruction has increased during that time. Wilson, using the species-area relationship, claims the extinction rates are 200 times higher than what the data actually shows. (In reality, his claim that extinction rates are 200 times higher than what the data shows is the extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.)

2)  Total Continental Extinctions — None of the nine recorded continental bird and mammal extinctions were from habitat reduction. But no matter the reason for their extinction, the total number of extinctions is way too small. Nine continental bird and mammal extinctions in 500 years is a very, very long way from the thousand plus continental bird and mammal extinctions predicted on the basis of the species-area relationship.

3)  Birds on the Red List — There has been no significant change in the numbers of birds in the highest risk categories of the Red List in the four years since its creation.

4)  Forest Extinctions — There are no recorded continental forest bird or mammal extinctions from any cause. The species-area relationship says we should have seen hundreds and hundreds of forest bird and mammal extinctions from worldwide forest habitat reductions. We have seen no forest extinctions from any cause.

Each of these independent lines of evidence shows that the species-area relationship does not work, that the relationship predicts a large number of extinctions from habitat reduction while the data shows no extinctions from that cause. I have also examined Wilson’s two explanations for this discrepancy, and I have shown that neither of them explains the lack of extinctions.

All of the conclusions drawn by these lines of evidence are very robust; in fact, they are all immune to a variation of an order of magnitude in the assumptions. That is to say, even if the predicted extinctions were only a tenth of what the species-area relationship actually predicts, the conclusion still stands in each case, that the species-area relationship gives incorrect predictions. And in particular, the total absence of continental forest extinctions in the 500-year record provides a final and absolute proof that the species-area relationship does not work to predict extinctions.

Conclusions

I am concerned that this study will be mis-used to justify cutting any forest any time. Let me make clear what this study does not say.

None of this implies that habitat destruction, forest fragmentation, or loss of species diversity are incidental or unimportant issues.

The contrary is true. Diversity is vital to ecosystems; the more types of life in an ecosystem, the better the ecosystem works. Local extinctions can have large negative effects on the local area. Clear-cutting forests for agriculture can change the local climate. Cutting forests recklessly can drive fish species extinct through siltation. Nothing in this study detracts from the need to provide reserves and parks and wildlife areas. In short, allowing for other species in our plans is essential.

None of this implies that extinctions will either rise or fall in the future.

This is an analysis of the historical record to date.

And finally, none of this implies that habitat destruction has no effect on the risk of extinction.

It clearly can and does have an effect; but the effect of habitat reduction appears to be too small to cause extinction by itself. In addition, habitat reduction appears to be mathematically unrelated to the extinction rate, and in particular the relationship is not represented by the species-area equation.

Extinction records do show that on all the continents of the world, there are no recorded cases of a forest bird or mammal that has gone extinct from any cause. This is despite the fact that humans have been reducing and fragmenting all natural habitats, including first the continental temperate forests and lately the continental tropical forests, for the 500 years covered by our extinction record. Five hundred years ago, reduced (fragmented) forest habitats were the exception. Fragmented forests are now the rule, about half the original forest worldwide is gone, and some places like the Brazilian Atlantic Coastal Forest and some “biodiversity hot spots” have lost 75% to 90% of their forests.

If the species-area relationship were correct in predicting extinctions, over these 500 years of forest (and other habitat) reduction, surely we would have seen at least a few dozen of the hundreds of predicted bird and mammal extinctions from this putative cause. But to date, no continental forest bird or mammal has ever gone extinct from any cause.

Given these four separate lines of evidence, I can only conclude that while the species-area relationship works well as a predictive tool for determining the number of species to be found by a survey, it fails completely when used to predict extinctions of continental bird and mammal species consequent to habitat reduction.

Possible Explanations

I don’t know why the species-area relationship doesn’t work to predict extinctions. I would have guessed it would work — it seems so reasonable. I do have some thoughts, however:

1.  One possibility is that it does work, but that the “z” factor for extinctions is much, much smaller than the z factor for counting species in an area. After all, speciation and extinction are radically different processes — why should they have the same z factor? However, the lack of even one recorded continental forest extinction argues strongly against this explanation, because with half the world forest gone with no extinctions, the “z” factor would have to be so small as to be meaningless.

Another possibility is that the exponential die-off could be very slow. Brooks et. al., for example, say it is on the order of 330 years to reach 1% (which is a 50 year half-life) (Brooks 1995). But if the die-off were over 1,000 years, rather than the shorter times stated by Wilson or Brooks, we still should have already seen 118 bird and mammal extinctions from the predicted 1088 “doomed” continental bird and mammal species. Even if the decay were 5,000 years, we still would have seen 25 extinctions from habitat reduction. In fact, we have seen none — so long die-off times cannot be the reason why the species-area relationship does not work.

2.  The total lack of any data to corroborate the use of the species-area relationship to predict extinctions makes it very difficult to explain why the species-area relationship does not work. If it worked but gave answers that were usually too high or too low compared to the data, it would be possible to test various scenarios. However, with no recorded extinctions from habitat reduction, this is not possible.

3.  In the 500-year period covered by the record of extinctions, forest habitat reduction has not completely destroyed any known continental bird or mammal species’ total possible habitat. If it had done so, we would most likely have seen the resulting extinction in the record — extinction from total habitat destruction is a possibility for any species, as happened to the Slender-billed Grackle.

4.  However, given the amount of forests destroyed worldwide, the odds are very good that we have completely destroyed a number of known species original habitats.

5.  This means that, although a species’ original habitat may be totally destroyed, under extreme external pressure it may successfully move to another habitat.

6.  Forests are not cleared instantaneously. They are cleared over a period of years or decades, with nearby stands falling first and then more distant stands at a later date. This gives species time to move.

7.  Species are incredibly adaptive and tenacious. Under pressure, many species are able to adapt to the changed circumstances by changing their preferred food, nesting sites, or other behaviors.

8.  Evolution is alive and well, and can operate in human time (centuries rather than millennia) (Badyaev 2002, Pergams 2003). This implies that species may actually be evolving, as well as migrating, adapting, and changing, to keep from going extinct.

9.  The one common thread of almost all recorded bird and mammal extinctions, both island and continental, is that one species actively goes out and hunts another species to extinction. Foxes, cats, mongoose, humans, rats, Newcastle disease, brown tree snakes, all of these species and more have actively driven other species to extinction. Absent hunting, very few species have ever gone extinct.

In short, this all suggests that the answer to the question of why the species-area relationship doesn’t work for birds and mammals is that they inconveniently refuse to die unless they are hunted down and killed one by one until the last one is gone. The species-area relationship doesn’t work because life, once created, struggles endlessly to survive. Life breaks rules to survive, cuts bonds, crosses gaps, jumps barriers, changes habitats, life does anything to survive.

The species-area relationship doesn’t work to predict extinctions because if you cut down half a forest, every single one of the resident bird and mammal species moves into the other half of the forest. They don’t know that they’re supposed to go extinct, no one told them, and so they do whatever they need to do to survive. And as the evidence shows, in fact they do make the move and they do survive — remember, despite massive forest habitat reduction, no continental forest bird or mammal has been recorded as going extinct in 500 years. No matter how the forest was cut, chopped, burned, and mangled, every one of the forest birds and mammals has somehow managed to survive — and that’s why the species-area relationship doesn’t work.

New or Modified Theories Relating Habitat Area and Extinction

10.  At present, no theory attempting to mathematically relate habitat reduction to bird and mammal extinction can be tested because of the record – no continental bird or mammal has ever been recorded as going extinct from habitat reduction alone, and no continental forest bird or mammal has ever been recorded as going extinct from any cause.

11.  Any new theory attempting to relate extinctions and habitat area must first correctly predict the past. It must first predict 500 years without a single continental forest bird or mammal extinction, during five centuries of massive historical forest habitat reductions on all continents, before looking to predict the course of future extinctions.

12.  Although habitat reduction clearly can pose a threat to any species, the nature and size of that threat is not mathematically related to the amount of habitat reduction involved. Otherwise, we would have seen forest bird and mammal extinctions.

Final Implications

13.  Based on the 500-year historical record, there is only a weak relationship between habitat reduction and bird or mammal extinctions. Unlike real extinction threats like predation by humans or other species, habitat reduction has played only a minor part in extinction.

14.  Accordingly, habitat reduction should be downgraded severely in the Red List of threats of extinction. At present, it is in first place on the List, giving a false impression of importance.

15.  The use of habitat reduction as a large factor in determining the danger of extinction is a circular argument, creating “evidence” that seems to support the species-area relationship (more Red List species considered to be in danger of extinction because of habitat reduction). However, that “evidence” derives from assuming the species-area relationship works, and thus can’t be used as “proof” that the relationship works.

In other words, if the criteria for inclusion on the Red List include the species-area relationship idea of habitat reduction as a major extinction threat, the number of birds on the Red List cannot be used to determine whether the species-area relationship works. Only actual extinctions can do that — and looking at actual extinctions there is no evidence that the species-area relationship works at all to predict extinctions.

16.  The listing of “habitat reduction” as a factor in extinctions is also suspect because habitat reduction is so common. At present, the majority of all bird and mammal species have a reduced habitat compared with 500 years ago, so “habitat reduction” could be cited for nearly any extinction. Generally, it seems to be a secondary factor, one that only comes into play when combined with a major factor such as hunting or poisoning.

17.  The 500-year record includes the so-called “Little Ice Age” of the 1600 and 1700’s, when global temperatures were much lower than today. Claims that small climate changes can cause widespread extinction are thus discredited in two ways: one is that they rely on the species-area relationship; and the other is that the historical record shows no sign of these extinctions from small climate changes.

18.  One or two or even a dozen missed bird or mammal extinctions would not change these conclusions at all, as the predicted extinctions are far too numerous to be challenged by such a small number.

19.  Removing the idea of habitat reduction as a major extinction threat will allow us to focus on the real main modern extinction threat, that of invasive, predatory alien species, in particular humans.

For example, it is not the cutting of the African forests that is the main danger to the species living in the forests — it is the bushmeat trade, and the poaching for furs and body parts, which are putting species at risk. Hunting, both by humans and by invasive species, may well yet drive a number of species to extinction. This is the real extinction threat of the 21st century, the threat that we should be working to counter.

Finally, please don’t bother disputing this or that individual record of extinction. Yes, I realize that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is likely extinct, despite what the official lists say. And I originally wrote this in 2005, so maybe another bird or mammal has gone extinct since then. But changing the status of one or a few birds or mammals makes no difference to my thesis. We are looking for dozens and dozens of missing corpses, not one or a few.

Literature Cited

Badyaev, A. V., Hill, G. E., 2002, Avian quick-change artists: exemplars of rapid adaptation, house finches show that mothers know best. Natural History, June, 2002, http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m1134/5_111/86684504/p1/article.jhtml?term=

Benton, M, Thames & Hudson, When Life Nearly Died, May 2003 ISBN: 050005116X

Brooks, T. M., Pimm, S. L., Oyugi, J. O., 1995, Time Lag between Deforestation and Bird Extinction in Tropical Forest Fragments, Conservation Biology, Pages 1140–1150, Volume 13, No. 5, October 1999

CREO, 2000, Continental mammal extinctions from the Red List that were  disqualified by CREO, with the reason for disqualification:

Extant under valid species name, Cervus schomburgki, Schomburgk’s deer

Extant under valid species name, Gazella bilkis, Queen of Sheba’s gazelle

Extant under valid species name, Gazella arabica, Arabian gazelle

Extant under valid species name, Equidae, Equus quagga, Quagga

Harris, G. M., Pimm, S. L.,  2004, Bird Species’ Tolerance of Secondary Forest Habitats and Its Effects on Extinction, Conservation Biology Volume 18 Issue 6 Page 1607  – December

IUCN, 2000, All data regarding total numbers of bird and mammal species are from the IUCN, available as a PDF file at http://www.wri.org/wr-00-01/pdf/bi2n_2000.pdf. IUCN extinction data are from the IUCN Red List 2000, at http://www.redlist.org. Selected data from the 2002 Red List are available at http://www.birdlife.net/datazone/downloads/index.html.

MacArthur, R. H., Wilson, E. O., 1963, The Theory of Island Biogeography,  ISBN: 0-691-08836-5

Mendonça, J. R., de Carvalho, A. M. Mattos Silva, L. A. and Thomas, W. W.  1994.  45 Anos de Desmatamento no Sul da Bahia, Remanescentes da Mata Atlântica – 1945, 1960, 1974, 1990.  Projeto Mata Atlântica Nordeste, CEPEC, Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil.

Parmesan, C. and Yohe, G.  2003.  A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems.  Nature 421: 37-42

Pergams, O. R. W., Barnes, W. M., and Nyberg, D., 2003, Rapid change of mouse mitochondrial DNA. Nature 423:397, http://home.comcast.net/~oliver.pergams/Nature.pdf

Pimm, S. L., Askins, R.A., 2005, Forest losses predict bird extinctions in Eastern North America, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., Vol. 92, PP 9343-9347, September 1995

Root, T.L., Price, J.T., Hall, K.R., Schneider, S.H., Rosenzweig, C. and Pounds, J.A.,  2003,  Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants.  Nature 421: 57-60]

Wilson, E. O., 1988, Biodiversity, National Academy of Sciences

Wilson, E. O., 1992, The Diversity of Life Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Wilson, E. O., 1995 Only Humans Can Halt the Worst Wave of Extinction Since the Dinosaurs Died  http://raysweb.net/specialplaces/pages/wilson.html

Wilson, E. O., 2001, Vanishing Point – On Bjorn Lomborg and Extinction, Grist, 12 Dec http://www.gristmagazine.com/grist/books/wilson121201.asp

Wilson, E. O., Perlman, D. L., 2000, Conserving Earth’s Biodiversity, Island Press, 2000

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AdderW
January 4, 2010 2:03 pm

not dead but scared off…

‘Scarecrow’ wind farms put rare birds to flight
Britain’s upland birds are in danger of being driven off hills and mountains by onshore wind farms.
Scientists have found that birds, including buzzards, golden plovers, curlews and red grouse, are abandoning countryside around wind farms because the turbines act as giant scarecrows, frightening them away.

but not a word on where they are going though…

Jim Arndt
January 4, 2010 2:12 pm

They are not extinct but resting, pining for the Fjords.

M White
January 4, 2010 2:13 pm

But still someone wants a grant
“Penguins Protected Against Climate Change”
http://video.news.sky.com/skynews/video?videoSourceID=7885642&flashURL=feeds/skynews/latest/flash/ACT-BB-SU-PENGUINS-P21567.flv
“The unique wildlife of the Falkland Islands could be starting to feel the effects of climate change. Conservationists have launched a special scheme to monitor the impact on the region’s most famous residents – the penguins. Sky’s Emma Hurd reports.”

dearieme
January 4, 2010 2:15 pm

In my browser the maths came up as “a power law of the form S = C , where…”

David Carpenter
January 4, 2010 2:22 pm

Another very interesting post Willis, how do you manage to do so much research? I am hard pressed to keep up!

Calvin Ball
January 4, 2010 2:26 pm

Arrhenius in 1920, relates the number of species found to the area surveyed as a power law of the form S = C , where “S” is species count, “C” is a constant, “a” is habitat area, and “z” is the power variable (typically .15 to .3 for forests).

I think you have an exponent not showing up.

tallbloke
January 4, 2010 2:32 pm

January 4, 2010 2:32 pm

It appears the only species headed for extinction is the increasingly rare Alarmist Globulus Warmus.

Doug in Seattle
January 4, 2010 2:34 pm

Since the 1970’s we have seen a fairly radical re-definition of the term species. Where we once considered all chinook salmon as a single species, we now see that every stream’s population of chinook salmon is regarded as a separate species.
This redefinition allows environmentalists to sue to have each individual stream listed as critical habitat for an endangered “species” when it is not possible to genetically differentiate that “species” from one in adjacent stream.
I suspect this is how Wilson gets his massively inflated numbers.

Henry chance
January 4, 2010 2:37 pm

Who was taking records for us before America was discovered?
The KU Jayhawks rock. They are increasing as are poley bears.
The seirra Club is now reflecting on the issues around wind generators. Oh my. They are creating more danger for animals.

January 4, 2010 2:37 pm

One error at least, in this paper, hit me almost immediately, though I had only read a few paragraphs. You need to correct this paragraph:
‘Wilson’s claim that 27,000 extinctions per year have been occurring since at least 1980 means that there should be 26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year, a total of 39 bird and mammal extinctions per year.’
You can’t have 27,000 per year and then state 26…. and 13…. per year since 1980. I suspect that there will be many such errors like this to catch and clean up. More careful editing is advised, and it would be easier in a much shortened paper.

wolfwalker
January 4, 2010 2:39 pm

Willis, I have to say that this lengthy piece of ill-informed nonsense seriously damages your credibility in my eyes. I’ll have to take another look at your previous piece on temperature records at Darwin, Australia, to see if it was as badly reasoned as this is.
1) it is simply not true that the last 500 years have seen “massive historical forest habitat reductions on all continents”. In fact, forest cover has fluctuated widely over the last 500 years.
2) you appear to think that we have a complete catalog of existing bird and mammal species. We don’t. We have no way of knowing how many species of birds or mammals may have gone extinct before they were ever discovered by science.
3) for birds, the idea that any significant population of probably-extinct birds such as Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Eskimo Curlew, or Bachman’s Warbler could escape the ever-growing legions of dedicated birders is prima facie absurd. If they were still out there, someone would have found them.
4) by focusing only on forest birds and mammals, you focus on a group of animals that are highly likely to be able to adjust to fluctuations in habitat. Forest communities are relatively uniform over tens of thousands of square miles. Populations of forest animals are similarly widespread, and difficult to completely eradicate.
I commend you for clearly stating what you were and were not attempting to prove … but I see no reason to accept your analysis as any more valid than Professor Wilson’s.

Mooloo
January 4, 2010 2:40 pm

I saw a short TV snippet on the Falklands penguins on NZ news. The greenies all worried that climate change might affect them.
Sure it might, but I think the huge great fishing fleets catching all the fish and destroying the local ecosystem is rather a more important problem in all but the longest term. But not a single mention of commercial fishing was made. It was all about how changes to currents might drive fish away (of course there is a 50/50 chance any change will drive fish towards the Falklands, but we don’t go there).

Louis Hissink
January 4, 2010 2:41 pm

Willis,
Keep going – you are on a roll!
Species going extinct is one issue but the geological record shows that they are replaced by new ones, so the AGW believers, if they wish to be technically correct, should also explain how the new ones will come about.
Remember folks, the geological past is littered with mass-extinctions, followed by mass “creation” of new life forms, so to propose a new extinction but ignoring the necessary new species creation is, well, unscientific?

Jim Masterson
January 4, 2010 2:42 pm

I think the power law should be something like: S = c*(A^z).
Jim

Editor
January 4, 2010 2:43 pm

That’s OK – If 30,000 species are going to become extinct (due to global warming) in the next century – and these “highly educated college professors ‘studying’ ecology and biology say so – then we have 90 years to kill 29,998 more species.
Doable. Will take some concentrated expensive effort, but it’s achievable. But we must begin quickly. We must act now and not delay.
After, these biologists (who are widely peer-reviewed and published of course!) would NOT EVER be exaggerating or stretching the truth any, would they?

Ed Murphy
January 4, 2010 2:44 pm

Florida Wildlife Commission Expects Record Number Of Manatee Popcycles In 2009
http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=85631790241
TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute documented 419 manatee carcasses in state waters as of Dec. 11. This preliminary data indicates that the total number of manatee deaths for 2009 has surpassed the highest number on record for a calendar year.
Preliminary totals for 2009 will be available on Wednesday, Jan. 6, unless there is an unusually high number of manatee carcasses reported in the next two weeks. A statewide perspective on these numbers, including category breakdowns will be available at that time.

P Walker
January 4, 2010 2:44 pm

There was a confirmed sighting of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Lousiana a few years ago .

January 4, 2010 2:47 pm

Tremendous article, I printed it out and through it and will do so again. i’ve participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for 15 yrs. I have also acted as a regional coordinator for my state bird count, overseeing 25 birders and thousands of breeding bird data records. I found that my own Audubon Society misused the data I and other birders collected, often during very cold weather that is typical of the Christmas bird counts. Here is my review of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count Report. As customary for the environmentalists, the Audubon report was a report of deception.
They scared the readers using January data, because it showed a big rise for the period, and scary-picked the temperature start and stop period, when in reality for the past 19 years the temperatures had decreased. Then they inaccurately portrayed many species as in trouble because of climate change, when in reality, the bird populations are increasing according to their own data.
After I wrote my blog report, I came upon Chris Knappengers report Audubon’s Bird-brained Conclusion: More Global Warming Misdirection and he studies the raw data in the Audubon report appendix, and came to the same conclusion, bird populations were generally increasing and healthy, yet the entire report was misleading! This is the state we now found ourselves in. And, it is accelerating at a rapid pace, where Nonsense and Scary conclusions from misrepresented data, or often total lies, are promulgated as FACTS. When they are in reality FARCE!

Peter
January 4, 2010 2:50 pm

Habitat reduction due to global warming?
How many plant and animal species are there that don’t do just as well, if not better, in a warmer climate – just as long as it isn’t drier?

chris y
January 4, 2010 2:51 pm

Willis- Fabulous post! In response to alarmist claims in blog comments, I have frequently requested listed names of even 1% of the predicted species extinctions over the past 30 years that were caused by climate change and/or habitat destruction. The people claiming 40K extinctions/year never respond.
Lomborg’s book has a chapter on species extinctions, and describes the origination of the 40K – 100K species/yr number as a complete WAG that morphed into consensus science. In other words, its absolutely specious drivel.
Recently Andy Revkin at Dot Earth commented that he would ask E.O. Wilson to provide a post on species extinctions. I have not seen any action on this yet. Your points raise serious challenges to Wilson’s central thesis.

AndrewWH
January 4, 2010 2:51 pm

Yangtze river dolphin?

John W.
January 4, 2010 2:54 pm

Two points I’d appreciate your thought on:
1. As farmland was converted to residential housing developments, the land was essentially reforested as the homeowners planted trees. How might this have affected your findings?
2. At least in North Alabama, raptors became invasive and habituated to humans. (Sufficiently so that they posed a hazard to cats and yip dogs. Some might consider that beneficial. 8^) ) Does this play into your findings at all?

Another Brit
January 4, 2010 2:56 pm

Cats. Forget global warming, cats have the upper hand My wife has 2 cats, natural born killers both of them. At least a bird and rodent a day each. The RSPB in this country refuses to acknowledge the impact cats have on the songbird population, as that would alienate a large part of their constituency. Personally I would sacrifice the cats, but I would suffer an extreme reaction from my spouse. Strange how people can reconcile hundreds of dead birds and small mammals on their doorsteps every year with the wellbeing of one cat.
Once global warming is canned, perhaps the next study should be on cats and the mortality rate of birds and mammals. Must be a way to tax cat owners surely?
Regarding penguins in the Falklands, another interesting study would be into the reduction of fish and krill stocks due to the explosion of commercial fishing since the Falklands War. At times there are hundreds of ships hoovering up everything with the “Conservation Zone.”

John W.
January 4, 2010 2:57 pm

RACookPE1978 (14:43:41) :
Doable. Will take some concentrated expensive effort, but it’s achievable. But we must begin quickly. We must act now and not delay.

As an ordnance corps friend of mine says, there is no problem that can’t be solved by the suitable application of high explosives.
Where should we start? 8^)

tty
January 4, 2010 3:01 pm

I would say that at least the following continental birds have gone extinct because of habitat reduction:
Colombian Grebe Podiceps andinus
Bogotá Sunangel Heliangelus zusii
Turquoise-throated Puffleg Eriocnemis godini
Streseman’s Bristlethroat Merulaxis stresemanni
Slender-billed Grackle Quiscalus palustris
Bachman’s Warbler Vermivora bachmanni
There is also a number of species that are probably, but not quite certainly extinct for the same reason Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Imperial Woodpecker for example.

DirkH
January 4, 2010 3:03 pm

“wolfwalker (14:39:45) :
Willis, I have to say that this lengthy piece of ill-informed nonsense seriously damages your credibility in my eyes. I’ll have to take another look at your previous piece on temperature records at Darwin, Australia, to see if it was as badly reasoned as this is. ”
Smells like troll logic.

Josualdo
January 4, 2010 3:04 pm

Splendid post. Not being educated on this matter, I just can’t figure out how the figures 26 and 13 were reached here:
“Wilson’s claim that 27,000 extinctions per year have been occurring since at least 1980 means that there should be 26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year, a total of 39 bird and mammal extinctions per year.”

Stacey
January 4, 2010 3:04 pm

“A recent study in Nature [Thomas 2004] stated that 37% of all species might soon go extinct because of habitat reduction due to global warming.”
The above statement is patently rubbish without any scientific investigation being necessary.
Mr Eschenbach treats the subject rightly with much more circumspection than it deserves.
Is Nature a scientific journal of record? If it was it isn’t any longer.

Cory
January 4, 2010 3:06 pm

I lived on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for a time, land of spotted owl fame. Some of this data would have been potentially helpful 20+ years ago. Doug in Seattle’s post is true, too, not just of Salmon but of spotted owls. There are at least 2 other ‘subspecies,’ and they are all over the west.
Interestingly, it turns out that deforestation isn’t the main problem with spotted owls anyway. It doesn’t help, but they are being out competed by Barred Owls moving in. So the argument morphs from, ‘we have to protect the entire ecosystem and there is such a delicate balance…,’ to, ‘sure nature is taking care of itself through natural selection, but we still need to protect this one little fastidious bird because we’d hate to see him go.’ Biodiversity is one thing, but the spotted owl is pretty much a religious icon at this point.
Now, I’m not in favor of deforestation, and I have nothing against spotted owls, but maybe we can see the first glimmer of light toward getting some necessary changes made to forestry regulations. Some day?

braddles
January 4, 2010 3:08 pm

They say extinction is forever but….
I made a list of Australian mammal species that had been, at some time or other, declared extinct. I found 34 (a few of them of dubious species status). It was interesting that none of them had gone extinct in the last 50 years, the most recent being the Crescent Nailtail Wallaby, last seen in 1956.
Also interesting was the fact that in the last 50 years, at least 11 out of the 34 that were once thought extinct have been re-discovered, alive and well. In effect, the number of mammal extinctions in Australia in the last 50 years has been negative!
There may be more to re-discover. Most of the extinct species are small nocturnal animals, which were always rare and living in extremely remote and localised areas.

KDK
January 4, 2010 3:09 pm

Any, and I mean ANY extinction of another species due to man’s greed, or ignorance is not acceptable. I hear what you are saying, but humans ARE the most destructive species.
Moving into land populated by say, tigers, then killing them if they kill your animals is insane… Hunting is NOT a SPORT, say any more than if I toss a grenade through your window while you are sleeping and claim we had a shootout.
Protect the species of this planet and the planet, execute the manipulators.

January 4, 2010 3:12 pm

For the US, you’re missing the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and that species almost certainly went extinct due to habitat destruction. The recent claims of its rediscovery are almost certainly specious.

crosspatch
January 4, 2010 3:13 pm

The Passenger Pigeon was a forest dwelling bird driven to extinction in the US in the early 20th century.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker. North American forest dweller. Probably extinct.

edward
January 4, 2010 3:13 pm

I had this discussion with the radical environmentalists at Realclimate asking that they name one species that went extinct as a result of Global Warming.
The only one they could come up with was the Central American Golden Toad.
(see link at: http://www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/extinct-golden-toad.html)
There is a study somewhere that draws the link to AGW but it’s tenuous to the extent it went extinct after a 1986 El Nino event. It probably died from loss of habitat or change in local climate as a result of human land use. The quote from the link above is as follows:
“The Monteverde cloud forest provided the only known habitat for the extinct golden toad which, along with the harlequin frog and 20 other amphibious species, became extinct around 1986-87. This coincided with a major El Niño event when climatic conditions in Costa Rica were particularly warm and dry.”

LARRY
January 4, 2010 3:15 pm

Would be interesting to know how many new species have developed or reemerged in our industrialized age. Seems like I read, a few years ago, about a local species that was thought extinct but reemerged about 10 years later.

greg2213
January 4, 2010 3:17 pm

Pretty much every species on Earth has lived through period both warmer and cooler than what we are experiencing now. They’ve lived through weather extremes, ice ages, ice clearing, and so on.
Also note that we have real data that shows the positive effects of CO2 and warming on the ecosphere.
Given this, the idea that the small amount of warming that we’re seeing will drive extinction events, now or in the forseeable future, is… amusing.

wws
January 4, 2010 3:18 pm

I think the numbers would change completely if you considered the nematodes. I have it on good authority that their used to be millions of species of spotted and striped nematodes, and now there are only hundreds of thousands.
My computer model told me so, so it must be true.

tty
January 4, 2010 3:20 pm

I would say that at least the following continental birds have gone extinct recently because of habitat destruction.
Podiceps andinus Colombian Grebe
Heliangelus zusii Bogotá Sunangel
Eriocnemis godini Turquois-throated puffleg
Merulaxis stresemanni Streseman’s Bristlethroat
Vermivora bachmanni Bachman’s Warbler
Quiscalus palustris Slender-billed Grackle
There are also several species that are probably, but not quite certainly extinct for the same reason, Imperial Woodpecker for example.
However it is easy to find examples of large-scale recent extinctions due to habitat destruction. The best (worst?) is probably the freshwater mussels of the eastern part of the USA. At least 26 species have gone extinct during the 20th century, exclusively because of habitat destruction, and another 30 are critically endangered. I can “list the corpses” if somebody is interested.

Layne Blanchard
January 4, 2010 3:24 pm

I assume then, the majority of extinctions are of the family insecta? I’d like to nominate the fire ant for immediate extermination.

Rob R
January 4, 2010 3:26 pm

Willis,
In NZ, like Australia, many bird species have gone extinct and many are still threatened. Like you say predation is likely the main cause. e.g. by Humans (a number of species of Moa) and by destruction of food sources (the very large NZ native eagle which relied largely on Moa for food, but may also itself have been hunted by Maori). The Huia (bird) was driven to extinction by collection for museums etc and for adornment (attractive feathers). Predation has also occured by introduced dogs, cats, rats, bushtail possums, stoats and ferrets.
But in the modern day a number of species and sub-species have been maintained by active human intervention (e.g. the Takahe, the Kakapo, and the Chatham Island Black Robin). Perhaps you need to discuss active intervention (conservation) and belated habitat protection and add these to your list. This activity must also be happening to some extent in a continental setting, just as it has been becoming more common during recent decades in the Islands of New Zealand.
Rob R

Jonathan
January 4, 2010 3:27 pm

@Josualdo: I’m assuming that the conversion from “27,000 extinctions per year” to “26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year” was done by multiplying the ratio of birds species/all species and mammal species/all species. (There is a statement about half way through “Bird species make up about .1% of all species, and mammal species are about .05% of all species (IUCN 2000)”
The actual values I calculated that Eschenbach used are reasonably close to the quoted values: birds =0.0963% of all species, and that mammals =0.0481% of all species.
Readability of this paper would certainly be improved if the explanation and IUCN reference wer provided back where the 27000 to 26/13 conversions were actually performed.

Steven Kopits
January 4, 2010 3:28 pm

A very interesting piece of research embodying both good research technique and logical process. Nicely written and genuinely educational.
It states what one might have suspected: predation, not habitat reduction, is the key source of extinction. Of course, loss of habitat almost certainly means fewer numbers of a given species that depend on the habitat. That is itself a loss, although not of extinction per se.
The record also shows remarkable resiliance in the face of temperature change. Take, for example, Wisconsin. Average temperatures there have varied by 7 deg F over on an annual basis over a very short period of time, as they did from 1996 to 1998. Thus, temperatures in Wisconsin, on average, every day, were seven degrees hotter in 1998 than in 1996–and yet no local extinctions were reported to the best of my knowledge.
This suggests that emphasis on climate change, for those interested in extinctions, is largely misplaced. Invasive species, like the pythons in the Everglades or the lionfish off the tropical east coast, are the critical issues. If we wish to defend our native biodiversity, we must take on the invaders directly. An obsession with climate change at the expense of more down-to-earth environmental issues will paradoxically produce precisely the harm that global warming advocates seek to avoid.

David Alan
January 4, 2010 3:30 pm

I would like to see articles like this posted by Willis Eschenbach find more attention in main stream media.
Instead, articles like the one below here ran by the Telegraph seems to get more attention, solely for its alarming, nonsensical, highly predictive and unsubstantiated claims.
[ Animals ‘on the run’ from climate change.
Plants and animals will need to move at an average rate of a quarter of a mile a year to escape climate change over the course of this century, according to scientists.
For species in flatter, low-lying regions such as deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas, the pace of the retreat could exceed more than half a mile a year, it is claimed.
Creatures and plants only able to tolerate a narrow range of temperatures will be most vulnerable, said the researchers.
Those unable to match the migration speeds needed to escape the effects of global warming could vanish into extinction.
Plants in almost a third of the habitats studied were thought to fall into this category, the scientists reported in the journal Nature.
Fragmentation by human development made the situation more perilous in some areas as it left many species with “nowhere to go”.
The researchers combined data on climate and temperature variation worldwide with projections to calculate the “temperature velocity” for different habitats. This is a measure of how fast temperature zones are moving across the landscape as the planet warms – and how quickly plants and animals will need to migrate to keep up.
The expected temperature velocity for the whole of the 21st century was 0.26 miles per year.
Author Dr Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California, said animals will be forced to migrate while many plants will die out.
“Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals. These are the conditions that will set the stage, whether species move or cope in place,” he said.]
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6874398/Animals-on-the-run-from-climate-change.html
What a bunch of trash.
Its articles like this from the Telegraph that supports my call for a complete and total boycott main stream media.
Thank you Willis for your factual presentation of the facts.

tty
January 4, 2010 3:33 pm

The claim that there has not been enough recent extinctions (say since 1980) is specious, simply because it is rarely known exactly when a species goes extinct. Near the end they are normally extremely rare, and hence difficult to find, and usually it takes a long time after the last record, often a couple a decades, before one can be completely sure that a species is extinct. As it is at least about 30 mammals and about 60 birds went extinct during the twentieth century.

tty
January 4, 2010 3:34 pm

I would say that at least the following continental birds have gone extinct recently because of habitat destruction.
Podiceps andinus Colombian Grebe
Heliangelus zusii Bogotá Sunangel
Eriocnemis godini Turquois-throated puffleg
Merulaxis stresemanni Streseman’s Bristlethroat
Vermivora bachmanni Bachman’s Warbler
Quiscalus palustris Slender-billed Grackle
At least four of these were forest dwellers.
There are also several species that are probably, but not quite certainly extinct for the same reason, Imperial Woodpecker for example.
However it is easy to find examples of large-scale recent extinctions due to habitat destruction. The best (worst?) is probably the freshwater mussels of the eastern part of the USA. At least 26 species have gone extinct during the 20th century, exclusively because of habitat destruction, and another 30 are critically endangered. I can “list the corpses” if somebody is interested.

Ray
January 4, 2010 3:36 pm

I would tend to think that if you destroy habitat, the animals will rapidly move in the opposite direction. Doing so will increase the density of such species and thus increase their respective reproduction rates. This will give the species much more time to find/adapt to their new environment.
When you think that natural extremely rapid forest fires that happened often in the past did not even drive extinctions, how can a very slow profit driven deforestation drive extinction?
I do agree that the most damage to species happened when we started exploring the earth. Eventually this will result in a sort of equilibrium. Some species can simply not live under different climates and all species need a male and female to reproduce (at least mammals and birds). Maybe we should keep an eye on those exotic pet breeder’s and exporters.

Jeff B.
January 4, 2010 3:38 pm

This is one of those Global Warming hysteria points because the average Joe has no way of ever verifying a global event such as extinction of some specific species, especially if that species is not local. So, fantastic quotes of mass extinction sound sufficiently scary to dupe the willing.
Climategate is helping to wake up average Joe to challenge the veracity of any and all AGW claims, particularly the sensational. Indeed, where are the corpses?

James W
January 4, 2010 3:40 pm

What has happened to science? Has this infection condemned all facets to lies, exaggerations? Is there not a single aspect of the sciences that this mentality has not corrupted? All of this is or will take the sciences to the brink of the toilet bowl. The masses will then never trust someone who say they are a scientist and has done the research here is the answer to the pressing question….
Great article it is good to know there are those out there combatting this scourge. To bad you will be called a denier of extinctions, flat extincter (my own word) or some other name.

ghostwhowalksnz
January 4, 2010 3:40 pm

Unlesss the Yangtze River has dried up the extinction of the local dolphin cant be due to the “habitat reduction”.
An for those who missed it here is the derivation of the 36 mammals and 13 birds per year
Finally, let us examine Wilson’s claim that due to forest habitat reduction, “The number of species doomed each year is 27,000.” (Wilson 1992)
Bird species make up about .1% of all species, and mammal species are about .05% of all species (IUCN 2000). Using Wilson’s figure of 10 million total species, he is claiming about 16 continental bird extinctions (27,000 species doomed times 8,433 continental bird species per 10,000,000 species) and 11 continental mammal extinctions (27,000 species doomed times 3,921 continental mammal species per 10,000,000 species) per year, for a total of 34 predicted continental bird and mammal extinctions per year. (I have used Wilson’s figure of 10 million species on earth, although modern estimates vary. Using Wilson’s figure allows the total number of species to cancel out in the calculation.).

January 4, 2010 3:43 pm

You can find a link to a Nova Video about Darwin and DNA here:
http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-darwin-never-knew.html
My take? If there is a niche an animal/plant will fill it. Species are nothing special. Species worship is a fetish.

tty
January 4, 2010 3:49 pm

braddles (15:08:44) :
Didn’t the Desert bandicoot and the Central Hare Wallaby go extinct after 1956?

January 4, 2010 3:50 pm

If we wish to defend our native biodiversity, we must take on the invaders directly.
Yeah. Some one really messed up when they let the dinosaurs go extinct. The biodiversity never recovered from that. I blame global something or other.

JR
January 4, 2010 3:59 pm

KDK (15:09:37)
I am a proud member of P.E.T.A. – People Eating Tasty Animals.

latitude
January 4, 2010 4:04 pm

It’s called evolution
Calling every bird with one odd feather a different species, is called cheating.

January 4, 2010 4:08 pm

BTW the Seals are leaving San Francisco and moving to Monterrey. Evidently the politics of Clint Eastwood is more amenable to them than the politics of SF.
http://www.scpr.org/news/2009/12/29/san-franciscos-famous-sea-lions-have-vanished/

January 4, 2010 4:10 pm

Galapagos finches.

Anton Eagle
January 4, 2010 4:14 pm

Willis,
Brilliant.
I wanted to tell you that this was non-physical nonsense, etc. etc. But, you smacked me around so effectively last time that I figured I would just concede right from the start.
Seriously though… nicely done. I was chuckling the whole way through. It’s amazing what you can find if you shine the bright light of science on a topic.
-Anton Eagle

January 4, 2010 4:15 pm

Has sanity gone extinct?

Peter Dunford
January 4, 2010 4:19 pm

I can’t get too worked up about tens of thousands of hypothetical species going hypothetically extinct. I can’t get too worked up over a few dozen thetical species documented going thetically extinct either.
What I do want to know is: How did Bachman take the extinction of his pet Warblers? Poor guy, must be gutted.

January 4, 2010 4:21 pm

Apologies for my previous comment as its a typo.
The question of the form of the equation should be:
Is it S = (C \times a) ^ z or S = C \times a ^ z ?
Reply: Previous comment deleted. ~ charles the moderator aka jeez the non manual reading fool.

royfomr
January 4, 2010 4:23 pm

If, for the sake of argument, I was to take up the offer to donate £3 per month to save a Penguin or a Donkey or a Kraken or whatever, when will I get told that they’re fine now or are extinct so please stop sending money?
I need to know this so that I can plan my car journeys! The UK government funded adverts about drowning puppies is self-explanatory but the “drive 5 miles less” message is trickier.
To whom do I send my money if I can’t avoid driving to my destination, where can I park if I do stop short but, most importantly, when will I know it’s OK to stop feeling guilty?

DirkH
January 4, 2010 4:31 pm

“greg2213 (15:17:36) :
Pretty much every species on Earth has lived through period both warmer and cooler than what we are experiencing now. They’ve lived through weather extremes, ice ages, ice clearing, and so on. ”
Probably not! Don’t overestimate the time it takes for a species to develop, and some are very specialized about their requirements. Somebody on a different thread mentioned Polar Bears: The species is younger than 3 Million years, so as long as there were polar bears there were ice caps.

January 4, 2010 4:32 pm

If you normally drive 40 miles a day and drive 5 miles less each day by day 9 you should be producing fuel and by day 16 there will be a fuel glut if every one does it.
Simple arithmetic.

January 4, 2010 4:33 pm

@Willis Eschenbach…
Sylvilagus insonus, or cottontail rabbit went extinct only in a relatively-small area of Mexico. Lack of reports is due to lack of interest for reporting the species living in other states; for example, Zacatecas, Mexico. Hunting was the cause of regional extinction of Sylvilagus insonus, whose skin was utilized (and it’s still exploited) for fabricating soft shoes, elbow-pads and shoulder-pads for jackets, and women’s caps.

January 4, 2010 4:40 pm

Great debunking of this ever-popular argument.
Great to know Oz holds another record – albeit for killing native species. They also killed all the aborigines in Tasmania. Is that another record, perhaps?
Not a nice bunch all those European immigrants!

braddles
January 4, 2010 4:44 pm

tty asked:
Didn’t the Desert bandicoot and the Central Hare Wallaby go extinct after 1956?
My copy of Complete Book of Australian Mammals says the last specimen of the former was collected in 1931 and the latter in 1932. It doesn’t mention any subsequent sighting dates. Only a single (dead) specimen of the Central Hare Wallaby was ever collected. The little that is known about it is mostly from Aboriginal lore. It is a species that may yet be re-discovered.

DirkH
January 4, 2010 4:55 pm

“M. Simon (16:15:41) :
Has sanity gone extinct?”
No but it’s critically endangered.

wolfwalker
January 4, 2010 4:57 pm

Willis, your demand for counter-evidence is disingenuous at best. You know as well as I do that it would be fruitless for me to go do a couple of months worth of research, spending a substantial amount of my own time and money in the process, then come back to this comment-thread and post my findings. After a decade of answering precisely such arguments from creationists and other cranks, I know there’s no point to such exercises. They always deteriorate into a game of he-said-she-said, and in the end nothing of any value is produced.
I do find it amusing, however, that in your quest to show scientists are all idiots, you rely on information from the very scientists you claim to be debunking. If scientists are as stupid (or as malevolent) as you seem to be implying, then nothing they produce can be trusted — including the data you’re using to disprove them.

pyromancer76
January 4, 2010 4:57 pm

Willis Eschenbach, you are doing the WUWT reputation for excellent scientific discussions up proud. Thanks for all the research on a very important topic. I also noticed that the decline in extinctions is at least coincidental to industrial affluence (the U.S. was nothing short of amazing in the 19th Century) and the rise of the Conservation Movement. We developed the ability — the affluence and the cultural mind — to care about the environment and our magnificent North American landscape and natural inhabitants.
Jim Watson (14:32:55) : “It appears the only species headed for extinction is the increasingly rare Alarmist Globulus Warmus.”
Unfortunately they are not rare enough, yet. They should become extinct because of their fatal ignoramous-data-falsification disease. I hope a healthy dose of lawyering plus loss of status (and jobs) in the various scientific professions, and loss of publication and subscription income, will finally kill off this most dangerous species.
In my recent excursion into research on comet/meteroite impacts during the Holocene, I noticed a number of discussions re major species extinctions due to of extratrestrial impacts and/or volcanic eruptions (mainly of the Large Igneous Province types) being compared to the current major species extinction being caused by humans — devouring the Earth and spewing global warming. After my first [snip], I realized that this dangerous Alarmist Globulus Warmist species will stop at nothing — no lie is too egregious — to limit human development, technological advances, and affluence (which alone, if it includes women equally in its benefits, brings about a decline in the birth rate — and a conservation movement).
I also appreciated nofreewind’s (14:47:31) comment about another subspecies of lying AGWers, the Audubon Society. Nofreewind did the field work, gathered the data, and Audubon lied about the results. This is another organization that has gone without my dues, paid faithfully year after year. Let’s run these ba$+@&d$ (without fatherly or proper parental authority) out of business and re-recreate a more sensible world. There must be consequences for these deliberate deceptions. I look forward to reading Knappengers’ “Audubon’s Bird-Brained Conclusion.”

Dave vs Hal
January 4, 2010 5:00 pm

Two main anthropogenic factors involved in species decline are habitat destruction and intoduced species. Factors like natural climate change and disease are always present and will exacerbate the manmade stresses. Bird and mammal species tend to be fairly iconic (cute or spectacular) and much money from government and NGOS has gone in to bringing many such species back from the brink.
One of the big debates in ecology is whether conservation (which means money) be directed at iconic species or general habitat protection? In many tropical areas I shudder to think of the loss of plant and invertebrate diversity that has occured due to palm oil plantations. The conundrum is how can developing countries aspire to a high standard of living while maintaining their natural heitage? Forests should be saved to protect biodiversity not carbon credits.

John S
January 4, 2010 5:00 pm

May I just say thanks Willis for (a) sending this to WUWT and (b) hanging around and answering those who had comments/corrections/queries about. Beyond the actual subject matter, I find this remarkably cheering: It strikes me that if a WUWT reader posted a comment which seriously questioned your methodology/conclusions, you would say “OK, let me go away and think about that” rather than trying to shut or shout them down. I notice Christopher Monckton has a similar approach to commenters on the recent Letter to Rudd post, also on WUWT. This is the sort of scientific method which seemed to have been seriously derailed in the Climategate emails. In other words, you (and Lord Monckton) are saying, this is the start of the debate, not the end of it. Discuss.
Thanks also to Anthony for hosting this. Is WUWT set to become the scientific record of real debate of the future?

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 5:12 pm

The most radical of all Darwin’s concept was that a species is an arbitrary taxonomical convenience. Darwin correctly understood species are a human construct and are not hard divisions of nature. Species number is first a matter of definition that is unfortunately not rigorously nor consistently applied. The definition of a species and the consistent application of this definition has been – well- evolving. Often we are comparing apples and oranges in looking at extinction. The most spurious of all claims is linking what we see now to any of the big 5 or even the lesser extinction events. These events show clearly in the fossil record where recognition of species is difficult at best. The great extinction events saw the loss of entire clades. If we want to make sure we are talking about “real” extinction events- move from the more arbitrary species and count the missing genera and families. The great extinction events such as the end of Permian would not have required a statistical analysis to know things were really bad.

January 4, 2010 5:18 pm

They also killed all the aborigines in Tasmania.
Were they a different species?

DirkH
January 4, 2010 5:19 pm

“wolfwalker (16:57:11) :
[…]
I do find it amusing, however, that in your quest to show scientists are all idiots, you rely on information from the very scientists you claim to be debunking. If scientists are as stupid (or as malevolent) as you seem to be implying, then nothing they produce can be trusted — including the data you’re using to disprove them.”
I would find your lack of logic amusing had i not seen such confused writing many times before. Where did you get the impression that Willis is on a quest to show all scientists are idiots? This is exactly the same pattern like in your last post. Can’t you at least try to be coherent?

R. Craigen
January 4, 2010 5:21 pm

When studying a population we look at both the death and birth rates to determine demographic trends. should we not consider the same in terms of speciation? While it is important to understand the actual rates at which extinctions take place, should we not study, in tandem, the creation of new ones? What is known about the spawning of new species in today’s world? The biosphere is amazingly capable of adapting, and in this changing world it is extremely plausible that we ought to be in a time of heightented speciation. But who is studying this empirically?

January 4, 2010 5:21 pm

I do find it amusing, however, that in your quest to show scientists are all idiots, you rely on information from the very scientists you claim to be debunking.
But that is the very best argument. To show that the other fellow’s argument is inconsistent.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 5:24 pm

And as to the chinook salmon reference- they are tetraploids and as such can make a mockery of our definition of species. Chinook and other salmon can establish isolated breeding population within a human life span. The “invasive” chinook salmon released into New Zealand 80 years ago have radiated to exhibit every life history trait shown by chinooks in North America- many of which we thought were tightly controlled by genetics such as age of ocean migration, rearing area selection etc. Sockeye salmon have shown the characteristics of behaviorly isolated breeding populations in some 40 years. Species are an important tool for scientific understanding unfortunately species are too often a tool purposes other than science.

January 4, 2010 5:25 pm

In many tropical areas I shudder to think of the loss of plant and invertebrate diversity that has occured due to palm oil plantations.
Funny no mention of the destruction of tropical forests due to cocaine production. That could be stopped with just a change of laws. I have yet to see much in the deforestation arguments on that subject.
If you care so much you should be a proponent of drug legalization.

Hank Hancock
January 4, 2010 5:28 pm

Dave vs Hal (17:00:26) :
Two main anthropogenic factors involved in species decline are habitat destruction and intoduced species. Factors like natural climate change and disease are always present and will exacerbate the manmade stresses.”

Earth & Sky web site ran an article today by Dr. Thomas Bancroft, chief scientist for the Audubon Society wherein he makes the case that birds are being affected by climate change.
http://www.earthsky.org/interviewpost/biodiversity/thomas-bancroft-encourages-bird-count-during-christmas-holidays
In the comments, I asked the question if his study has controlled for loss of habitat, urbanization, agricultural changes, or other potential confounding variables? It doesn’t make sense to me that the birds would be all that stressed out over the approximate net gain of +0.25C we’ve seen over the past three decades. It makes more sense to me that the birds are probably far more sensitive to other stressors that must certainly be evidenced.

John Blake
January 4, 2010 5:29 pm

This “wholesale extinction due to habitat destruction” meme is part and parcel of Climate Cultists’ unsupported, factually untenable AGW delusion, promoting spurious linear extrapolations from models inherently incapable of projecting outcomes in complex dynamic systems. These Luddite propagandists are no more concerned with extinctions or “global warming” (sic) than with any other objective, rational scientific exercise: Their goal is political power, pure and simple, establishing an overweening Statist apparat with themselves as global commissars, gauleiters, micro-managing all to bureaucratic oblivion for their own nihilistic, death-eating amusement.
Definitively refuting Wilson root-and-branch is most necessary, invaluable in 500-year context and perspective, but will no more silence mindless AGW and greenie-weenie ideologues than would a sudden (counter-factual) “species explosion” on all fronts. Fortunately, poltroons of these persuasions must eventually become extinct themselves, leaving halfway-decent investigators to triumph by default.

E.M.Smith
Editor
January 4, 2010 6:06 pm

Pat Moffitt (17:24:33) : And as to the chinook salmon reference- they are tetraploids and as such can make a mockery of our definition of species.
One of my favorites in that regard are the Cruciferous vegetables (also called Brassicaceae unless they’ve changed it again… wasn’t stability of names one of the reasons we were supposed to learn the latin names?… Heck next thing you know they will be renaming gramineae or leguminosae 😉
There are something like 3 basic species groups, but crosses between them give various polyploid hybrids and a gazzilion species. They are very free with how they share their genes and any home gardener will tell you that if you would like to create a new species of God only knows what, just plant some Kale, Cabbage, Mustard, and turnips / Swedes near each other and wait…
(Swedes or rutabagas are those roots that look and taste like a turnip but are a polyploid cross of turnips with something else – a rape seed plant or mustard? I forget… )
I’ve got an interesting “collard” that is a Kale / cabbage cross. I’ve also got a very unique bean that I think is a Scarlet Runner bean / Purple Pod / Kentucky Wonder three way cross.
Very large beans. Prolific Kentucky wonder growth and production. But with a purple pod. Very unique. (Only negative trait is a bit of string in the string bean phase like in runner beans.)
So, is it an endangered species? There are only a few hundred seeds of it and it only grows in one 10 foot square patch each year… Two of the parents are different species…
Does it “go extinct” each winter when all the seeds are in my freezer and the plants are dead?
The whole notion of species is very fuzzy… There was a hunter let off the hook lately on charges of shooting a polar bear when they were able to show it was only 1/2 polar bear and 1/2 brown bear. So their ‘mistake’ in shooting the ‘wrong species’ was understandable.
Then there is that whole wolf / coyote / fox thing where they recently figured out one ‘species’ was a cross from two others… (red wolf? Canadian wolf? Canadian coyote? Something like that).
Nature swaps genes around far more than our neat little bucket of ‘species’ implies and far more than we like to think…
Heck, triticale is a rye / wheat hybrid… and barley has a couple of species with different degrees of polyploidy. So when one barley has twice the genes of another, but both are barley, what have you got?
Oh, and I once saw a Mule and her colt. Yes, a “sterile” mule that crossed with a horse, IIRC. So are burros, mules, and horses really 3 species?
The list goes on (but I won’t).

Anticlimactic
January 4, 2010 6:10 pm

Someone mentioned that Passenger Pigeons were forest dwellers as if it was connected to their extinction. Quoting from QI [an unusual quiz show in the UK] ‘In the U.S. the last flock of 250,000 passenger pigeons were killed by hunters in a single day. They knew it was the last flock’.

Richard Sharpe
January 4, 2010 6:22 pm

M. Simon (16:08:10) said:

BTW the Seals are leaving San Francisco and moving to Monterrey. Evidently the politics of Clint Eastwood is more amenable to them than the politics of SF.
http://www.scpr.org/news/2009/12/29/san-franciscos-famous-sea-lions-have-vanished/

Hmmm, I thought that the sea-lions went north to Oregon.

J.Hansford
January 4, 2010 6:31 pm

tty (15:49:22) :
braddles (15:08:44) :
Didn’t the Desert bandicoot and the Central Hare Wallaby go extinct after 1956?
————————————————————–
You keep missing the point tty…. These creatures are not continental as per Willis’s criteria. He explained that at the outset… The desert bandicoot and hare wallaby didn’t die out because of habitat destruction. They were out competed or hunted by introduced species… Rabbits, cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, etc… Perhaps disease could play a part in island extinctions also. After all 40 million years of isolation would leave them uniquely succeptible to introduced diseases.

Ray
January 4, 2010 6:40 pm

On the other hand, other scientists find new species every day…

Tom T
January 4, 2010 6:45 pm

This is just amazing. I have always wondered why we should care even if some species did go extinct. We would probably not even be here if the dinosaurs did not go extinct. When one species goes extinct it can allow another to come in extinct. Nature likes to be dynamic.

DesertYote
January 4, 2010 6:46 pm

Where is the holotype “Ectopistes migratorius”? I got curious a couple of years ago about the species status of the famous Passenger Pigeon. Everything we learned in school is suspect. The Passenger Pigeon story was really well promoted. I mean everyone knows it. I had a feeling that most of it was a lie so I tried to do some basic research. My main field is fish and not birds so I am a little “out of my water” researching a bird. Regardless, I was surprised that there was very little real science. Most reported facts are based on folk tales, which are not normally considered reliable. Why are folk tails being relied on? This is very suspicious. Why is the Passenger Pigeon placed in a monotypic genus? It is remarkably similar to the incredibly common Morning Dove. What justifies it being placed in its own genus? I tried to get some information on its taxonomy and I tried to find some references to museum specimens, specificity ( 🙂 ) the holotype. I could not find it. All I found was some skin mounts that the Smithsonian has. BTW, I do not trust anything the Smithsonian says. They have bit of a rep for not only being splitters, but for recognising very dubious species ( e.g. Ambistonum californium (sp?)) . I am starting to wonder if the Passenger Pigeon is more myth then reality. As a side note, the characteristics that are reported for the Passenger Pigeon are impossible. No species like it could have evolved. I would not mind if some birdy people could point me to were I can find some REAL information.
One more point: the Delta Smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, is not even close to being endangered!

Richard Wakefield
January 4, 2010 6:52 pm

Interesting article, thanks.
What is not cited by those who claim extinction is rampant is the new species we have spawned. Two new parakeet species now exist in the US. In New York released Monk (Quaker) Parakeets thrive and are even considered pests due to their growing numbers. And in San Francisco the famous Redheaded Conjures of Telegraph Hill are also growing in numbers. Though they are kept alive by people who actively feed them during the winters, eventually, these two populations, since they are reproductively isolated from their original location, will become new species.
An often-overlooked issue with extinction is that our use of taxonomy may prevent the listing of species as extinct, and may also enhance the listing of species as extinct. It all depends on the definition of species, of which there are a number of competing definitions. Even the entire Linnaean system of classification is under attack as being completely inadequate as a mechanism to classify organisms, giving way to the Phylocode, which is more specifically defined of what a species is, and is not.
“Extinction” is often applied to a species that has in fact undergone a dramatic reduction in numbers, with a rapid speciation, reemerging as a new species. Thus the genetic lineage has survived, albeit altered to a new species. No physical wiping off the face of the earth happened in such a case. It’s a taxonomic extinction only, not a biological extinction. Thus the claim that 99% of all species has become extinct missed the fact that 100% of extant species came from those “extinct” species.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 6:53 pm

The passenger pigeon population was estimated at 4 billion birds. Some speculate that 1 in 4 birds in Audabon’s time were passenger pigeons. But think of the reality- one in four birds constituting a single species? 4 billion birds of one species. Imagine what this would have done to the diversity of other bird species. Imagine what they would have done to woodland habitat? I find it interesting that we have such little problem in believing some of the astronomical animal counts BM – before man. Obviously passenger pigeons were here and now they are not-however they like the Atlantic salmon – were grossly overestimated- or they were the result of some other eco-sytem change that allowed a short term population boom. One would think all predator populations would have converted to eating such a monumental food source presented by a stable pigeon population. Colonists would have been eating passenger pigeons on Thanks giving not turkeys. Famine, which is well recorded, would not have existed in North America. The reality is passenger pigeon bones are not found in Indian middens nor in digs of early settlers. The same is true for Atlantic salmon. We need to be careful of not only our definition of species but the accuracy of our historical accounts.

Christopher Byrne
January 4, 2010 6:54 pm

wolfwalker (16:57:11) :
(…)
“I do find it amusing, however, that in your quest to show scientists are all idiots, you rely on information from the very scientists you claim to be debunking. If scientists are as stupid (or as malevolent) as you seem to be implying, then nothing they produce can be trusted — including the data you’re using to disprove them.”
I’m not sure how to respond to people who can’t differentiate between data collection and data analysis.

DesertYote
January 4, 2010 6:57 pm

Richard Sharpe (18:22:05) :
“Hmmm, I thought that the sea-lions went north to Oregon.”
Nah, only the liberal ones.

LB
January 4, 2010 7:03 pm

Splendid article. I’ve often wondered about the oft claimed species extinctions. No names were ever given.
Having said that, I do worry about fish stocks and certain species like bluefin tuna. More alarmist misrepresentation or are fish stocks and bluefin tuna in particular under serious threat?

Richard Wakefield
January 4, 2010 7:08 pm

Re Galapagos finches.
Actually, they are doing very well. A 35 year study shows they adapt very quickly to considerable varying changes in the local climate, with significant alterations in beak size and shape. Evolution works very well indeed.
Even if it was true that what we are initiating is a whole sale extinction of vast organisms not seen in 65 million years, just think of the vast new species that will energe in a million years long after humans have themselves become extinct (likely of their own doing).

P Wilson
January 4, 2010 7:16 pm

Forget the idea that the dodo became extinct as they were devoured by humans and the cats, dogs they brought with them thus sealing their fate. the dodo really became extinct as humans went to Mauritius and sadly exposed them to co2 that brought on global warming on the island and destroyed the habitat.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 7:19 pm

LB
The blue fin are in trouble because every nation that chases them subsidizes a fishing fleet far larger than any market force could justify. Even when fish stocks dive- subsidies maintain the fleet by the declaration of a fishery emergency. Subsidies as one fishery researcher has said- means we can never take our foot off their necks Many environmental problems whether they be as a result of commercial fisheries or agricultural practices such as growing rice in a desert have subsidies driving perverse markets. A 1999 Nat Acad Sci report summed up the problem for blue fin and many other commercial fish. “The pressure for liberal catch quotas can be quite strong-often involving important political figures-and risk prone management often results. Even if mangers resist pressures to make risk prone decisions, the existence of a large, chronically undersatisfied fleet exacerbates monitoring, control and surveillance.” This is not a new “rent seeking” strategy as commercial boat captains received more in subsidy payments during the time of Lincoln than was paid to members of Congress.

acementhead
January 4, 2010 7:45 pm

Jim Arndt (14:12:33) :
“They are not extinct but resting, pining for the Fjords.”

The Norwegian Blue isn’t really a species anyway, really just a sub-species.

January 4, 2010 7:51 pm

I heart you Willis, but this essay is way off the mark. Yes, I agree, the The Theory of Island Biogeography is utter crap, and maybe this essay will help to bury it, but…
Wildlife population change is governed by predator-prey relationships. Not habitat. Not climate change. Predator-prey. I don’t want to get into a full-blown course in population dynamics, so you’ll just have to trust me.
Animals can and do move. 15,000 years ago there was not animal one across much (~1/2) of North America. That was due to the fact that neither animals nor plants live on continental ice sheets. All the plants and animals you see in much of NA today migrated there fairly recently.
No, there is not less forest than 500 years ago — there is more. Anthropogenic fire has scorched the Americas (everywhere that will burn) for 12,500 years at least. That very ancient yet continuous practice has had a profound effect on landscapes and vegetation across both NA and SA. By deliberate intent of the long-time human residents, continuous burning created open, park-like forests, prairies, and savannas arranged across landscapes in anthropogenic mosaics (human-induced vegetation patterns).
Vast tracts of Amazonia, considered “wilderness” today, have in fact been occupied for thousands of years by human beings who burned and altered the forests. Terra preta anthropogenic soils cover an area the size of France and Spain combined.
In 1492 some 50,000,000 people lived in the Americas. A hundred years later the population had fallen by 90% or more. Whole civilizations disappeared. Historians refer to the die-off as the American Holocaust.
The loss of the key predators and key landscape burners changed animal populations and gave rise to dense forests such as have not been seen before during the Holocene, which many refer to as the Anthropocene.
The equations above are so simplistic as to be absurd. More to the point, they fail to account for the principal environmental factor extant for millennia: humanity.
I appreciate that you climate fans have an interest in wildlife population dynamics, but you need to compliment that with some study of historical landscape geography, paleobotany, and anthropology. And you need to realize that there has been a paradigm shift in ecology, as a big a shift as plate tectonics has been to geology. The New Paradigm holds that human influences have been profound during the Holocene. The Old Paradigm (Macarthur and Wilson for instance) is based on outmoded Victorian ecological ideas.
If I may, I cordially invite one and all to visit the W.I.S.E. Colloquium – History of Western Landscapes for the most cutting edge findings:
http://westinstenv.org/histwl

r
January 4, 2010 7:57 pm

Here is an easy and effective way to promote land conservation. Eliminate land tax. I mean tax on UNDEVELOPED land.
The land tax was an old incentive to make land productive. Not too long ago developement was considered desireable. Land tax is still in place and it is still an incentive to develope as it is expensive to hold land that does not produce an income.

Ray
January 4, 2010 8:02 pm

The best example of “driving” (i.e. eating) a specie to extinction is the whale hunting by Japanese. We know their numbers are low, yet their government insist that they must hunt them down to know how many are left…. how stupid can that be?

r
January 4, 2010 8:05 pm

Some one once told me not to eat tuna sushi because it endangerd tuna.
If you are going to eat tuna, please, eat it as sushi! Do it justice! And appreciate it for what it is! Tuna sushi is one of the great foods of the world.
If you want to reduce tuna consumption, reduce the canned tuna salad sandwich!

r
January 4, 2010 8:07 pm

The coral reefs are dying because of sun screen used by tourists.

LB
January 4, 2010 8:11 pm

Thanks for the reply Mr Eschenbach. The bluefin problem does sound like the problems they had protecting sturgeon in the caspian sea (which are apparently successfully being managed now). With prices for Caspian sea caviar being driven up by increasing demand but decreasing supplies, the relatively poor people along the coast of the sea could make many years income just from one decent sturgeon catch.

r
January 4, 2010 8:11 pm

About the sunscreen and coral:
http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2008/10966/abstract.html
NOT warming.

LB
January 4, 2010 8:14 pm

r, yellowfin tuna levels are under tno threat whatsoever (apparently) so a blankt ban on tuna would be unnecessary. Sushi for all! Actually lightly seared tuna steak is nice too.

vigilantfish
January 4, 2010 8:19 pm

Oops – just accidentally submitted my comment before it was finished – I wanted to retract my last criticism, as I realized I was misreading the phrasing regarding 27,000 extinctions per year. I guess the scale of Wilson’s exaggeration led me to this confusion. I want to reiterate: excellent article, and I look forward to more posts by Willis Eschenbach.

DirkH
January 4, 2010 8:26 pm

“r (20:11:43) :
About the sunscreen and coral:
http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2008/10966/abstract.html
NOT warming.”
Ecotourism.

Patrick Davis
January 4, 2010 8:27 pm

“P Wilson (19:16:16) :
Forget the idea that the dodo became extinct as they were devoured by humans and the cats, dogs they brought with them thus sealing their fate. the dodo really became extinct as humans went to Mauritius and sadly exposed them to co2 that brought on global warming on the island and destroyed the habitat.”
Being eaten by humans and becoming extinct is exactly what happend to the Moa on New Zealand. I recall, fairly recently too, a news article stating that a significant number of new species of plants and animals has been discovered in the last few years. And in 1994 the Wollemi tree, thought to be extinct, was found, still living, in remote parts of Australia.
“Ray (20:02:17) :
The best example of “driving” (i.e. eating) a specie to extinction is the whale hunting by Japanese. We know their numbers are low, yet their government insist that they must hunt them down to know how many are left…. how stupid can that be?”
I understand that most of the whales aren’t caught and slaughtered for human consumption.

Steve Fitzpatrick
January 4, 2010 8:29 pm

Very interesting paper Willis, but I don’t think it will make you popular with the Green party. Not nearly alarmist enough. You should see the new film “Avatar” for a dose of the “right” philosophy….. nature is good, humans are bad.

Holmes
January 4, 2010 8:29 pm

The extinction of species is not an urban myth because most animals do not live in the urbes. Anyone who has watched the progressive expansion of the disease called humankind across the planet will know that the first casualties are the natural inhabitants, the birds, animals, and other creatures. There are no bodies because the unbooted and unhorsed have eaten them!
Anybody who cannot follow the very wide trial of very obvious clues and information just by making themselves aware from basic media so widely available is not worthy of making comment.
Unfortunately the dislocation of humankind from the natural environment (there are now more city than rural dwellers in the world) leads to this failure to appreciate and understand the interaction within an ecosystem that is destroyed by the imposition of humans upon it.

Editor
January 4, 2010 8:30 pm

But Willis, in November FoxNews published a newswire from the Associated Press, based on a press release from the International Union for Conservation of Nature that said “Over 17,000 Species Threatened by Extinction”. “The Switzerland-based group surveyed 47,677 animals and plants for this year’s “Red List” of endangered species, determining that 17,291 of them are at risk of extinction.”
http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/11/03/species-threatened-extinction/
And the Wikipedia entry for List of Extinct Birds clearly states that, “Since 1500, over 190 species of birds have become extinct, and this rate of extinction seems to be increasing. ”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_birds
Are you implying that that the AP and Wikipedia aren’t trustworthy sources of information?
Jest aside, very well written article and rebuttals. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 8:38 pm

Mike D
I am amazed at your black and white statement that populations are a function of predator – not habitat relationships. In many cases the difference between forest land and prairie is fire. The animal assemblage of prairies is very different than forest. Our current forest monoculture controls diversity more than does predator prey in many cases. The native American studies to which you allude relied on Indians terraforming- often with fire- large tracts of wilderness to produce the type of animals they desired. And in fisheries both in fresh and salt water habitat may control more than any other variable. Reef fish need reefs as an example. Eliminate reefs you eliminate reef fish. Introduce reefs and reef fish populations grow. You can find many rivers with otherwise suitable water quality with low fish biomass because of the simple lack of structure. This does not say that predator prey is less important than habitat- just that systems- like climate- are generally more complex than is accounted for by simple rules

DirkH
January 4, 2010 8:41 pm

“Holmes (20:29:42) :
The extinction of species is not an urban myth because most animals do not live in the urbes. Anyone who has watched the progressive expansion of the disease called humankind across the planet will know …”
Google for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, they might be of interest to you. Oh wait i got it here for you:
http://www.vhemt.org

J.Peden
January 4, 2010 8:41 pm

In 1992, E. O. Wilson wrote that because of the 1% annual area loss of forest habitat worldwide, using what he called “maximally optimistic” species/ area calculations, “The number of species doomed [to extinction] each year is 27,000. Each day it is 74, and each hour 3.” (Wilson 1992).
Simply stopping reading at this point, I would already say Wilson has made a gigantic leap from a deduction concerning the original numbers of each individual species decreasing toward zero to numbers of species going extinct. From what little I know, species extinction isn’t going to happen unless all of the useable habitat or niche disappears, at least according to what Wilson’s original given conditions apparently are – where everything else stays proportional while decreasing, starting from a condition of “sustainability” for those numbers of each of those species .
It isn’t going to work in the case of humans, even without them having much technology.
I don’t even see what the rate of habitat destruction has to do with it at all, as long as there is enough habitat left to support succeeding generations of the same minimal number of individuals.

vigilantfish
January 4, 2010 8:54 pm

Since the comment for which I apologized above somehow vanished I will try again. I really enjoyed your deconstruction of E.O. Wilson’s projections, Willis, and admire your turn of phrase – you are an eminently readable contributor. The logical demolishing of the most alarming extinction figures rings true: if as many species were becoming extinct as have been claimed, we’d be bashed over our heads with this information by the environmentalists, instead of being harangued with statistical arguments. It was a pleasure to see a biological post here at WUWT – my area of expertise, and also, IMHO, highly relevant since it is the biologists who are the most adamant environmental alarmists. (I should know – I did a biology undergrad degree and spent several years in biology graduate studies).
I enjoyed also your reversion to the fisheries discussion from the earlier thread. OT – The question of where the corpses are has haunted me in relation to the collapse of the Northern Cod stocks on the Grand Banks and 2J3KL fishing grounds around Newfoundland. If, as DFO officials argue, climate change leading to exceptionally cool waters killed off the cod, should there not be corpses. IF a species goes extinct, by definition there should be few corpses left from a diminished population: but there should be a record of their disappearance – a metaphorical corpse. However, if a sharp environmental change suddenly makes a region uninhabitable for a species, and that species is not traced to other locations, surely there should be some corpses.
Holmes: human beings are not a disease – we are another natural species with the same right to compete for resources as other species. It is because we are mostly urban animals that we overestimate the damage we do to nature – especially in North America. Other species just have to get used to us – as has occurred in areas where large populations have been around for a while. There is a strong argument to be made that forestry activities, for example, help to diversify the number and kinds of environmental niches, and may assist in the survival of certain species. The argument that spotted owls, for example, do best in old growth forests was weakened by the fact that once stringent anti-forestry principles were established, and forestry activities massively reduced, the number of owls actually diminished – whether due to competition from other species, as suggested in a post above, or even due to loss of the more ‘disturbed’ habitat provided by human activity, as has been suggested by other observers. I am not advocating abandoning environmental stewardship by any means, but making people guilty for being born – a deep ecology trademark – is not the answer. Incidentally, the wealthiest nations, like the US, do the best job in cleaning up the consequences of human activities. Not perfect, and needing constant vigilance, but the precedents for environmental stewardship began there and in Great Britain when it was at the heart of its enormous empire.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 9:03 pm

Darwin said that while evolution might describe a species past it could not predict its future. A point not often discussed is there is no direction to evolution. One species extinction opens a probable universe of new species because no niche remains empty for long. Each specie that does not go extinct causes the extinction of a universe of “potential” species. Evolution does not care -nor does nature- the direction it takes. Steven Gould summed this up “There’s nothing science as an enterprise can do about telling you what’s a good way to live or what’s the meaning of life. Of course, one wonders about those things. Those are great questions people have asked through the ages. You have to address them as an ethical being. You have to solve these issues for yourself. You have to decide the moral code by which you’re gonna live. Science is not going to get you those answers.” Science suffers when science is used to bolster a moral or political ideology. The morality of extinction is a pertinent point for human discussion- but Nature takes no note of it. Were it not for an asteroid hit dinosaurs would have never yielded ground to larger mammals. While dinosaurs are pretty cool- I am thankful for at least their extinction- perhaps not proud of this position- but thankful none the less. I am less proud of some others.

Pete of Perth
January 4, 2010 9:12 pm

With regards to numbers, Dilbert nails it:

January 4, 2010 9:13 pm

Thank you for sharing this. I assume Dr. Wilson has a science degree. I suggest he reread Karl Popper’s “The Logic Of Scientific Discovery”.

J.Peden
January 4, 2010 9:19 pm

Thank God and Willis for empiricism. Neither get paid for it.

J.Peden
January 4, 2010 9:27 pm

Holmes (20:29:42) :
Anyone who has watched the progressive expansion of the disease called humankind across the planet will know that the first casualties are the natural inhabitants,…
Ok, Holmes, be my guest. If you think you are a disease agent, do something about it – also because you seem to think you are so much more noble than we – the conveniently Otherized – are. This is your big chance to make a personal statement against “evil” to back up your ethical views – by doing exactly you know what, alone please! Note that anyone who does not subscribe to your personal “ethical thinking” is not obligated by your ethics.
Why do you so readily set yourself up for this criticism?

Green Dragon
January 4, 2010 9:32 pm

Hi Willis,
I appreciated your article greatly.
I was curious about one thing, is the Arrhenius equation of use if a (Delta)T function is applied?
I would also propose said function in determining the effects of predation.
I would use the (Delta)T function inversely in the sense that the shorter the time-frame the greater the influence on a positive result of species extinction via whatever source.
I use as a very poor analogy in the accompanying explanation to a table in ‘Victory at Sea’ authored by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, published in 1995 titled ‘HITS NECESSARY TO SINK A WARSHIP’ on page 178 of my edition.
I quote:
“A lot of damage incurred over several hours may be not as deadly as a relatively small amount inflicted all at once, since the latter short-circuits the ship’s damage control systems.”
My analogy is a ship to a species, if any hostile actor will move towards said species destruction it must move fast and hard otherwise the target species will adapt to the altered dis-equilibium to the best of its ability.
Time is survival?

January 4, 2010 9:55 pm

The native American studies to which you allude relied on Indians terraforming- often with fire- large tracts of wilderness to produce the type of animals they desired.
That is GREAT NEWS. Since it is a well known fact that Indians lived in harmony with nature (love those Comanche – http://www.badeagle.com/ ) then if we burn down large tracts of land to produce the type of habitat we like it is AOK.

Clive
January 4, 2010 9:57 pm

A) Willis. Very interesting. Thanks.
B) This is not a critical or arguing type of comment, but I am curious about what Pat Moffitt said (I am not sure of PM is quoting or stating), “In many cases the difference between forest land and prairie is fire.” I don’t get this.
The Canadian prairies and forest are a function of soil and climate. Burn a forest and it regenerates as forest … as always. Lots of examples here in Alberta. Reforestation may take a few years, but it does not change to prairie. Maybe that happens in warmer climes.

January 4, 2010 9:57 pm

Now here is a lack of logical progression:
Weatherwise magazine (Nov/Dec 2009) has an article called: “What Killed the Reindeer of Saint Matthew Island?”
The introductory blurb states: “Studies show that as Earth’s climate warms, rates of extinction are increasing … Such stresses are compounded when an extreme weather event occurs. An event that occurred in the winter of 1964 provides a case study for the problem and shows that when an unstable wildlife population is confronted with extreme weather, the results can be devastating.”
The article makes no further mention of a warming climate – the Matthew Island reindeer? : “The bitter cold and unrelenting storms that pummeled Saint Matthew Island in the winter of 1964 … From 6,000 reindeer entering the winter of 1964, only 42 reindeer survived”
They could have used a bit of warming.

Green Dragon
January 4, 2010 10:09 pm

Holmes (20:29:42) :
The extinction of species is not an urban myth because most animals do not live in the urbes.
> However urban myths originate in the ‘urbes’ that is why they are referred >to as ‘urban myths’, species extinction is irrelevant.
Anyone who has watched the progressive expansion of the disease called humankind across the planet will know that the first casualties are the natural inhabitants, the birds, animals, and other creatures. There are no bodies because the unbooted and unhorsed have eaten them!
>Humankind is a disease? what is your solution? Would you lead by example? >Why are humans unnatural? Are you human? If not, does that make you >natural? Who are the unbooted and unhorsed? Carnivores, Omnivores, >Herbivores, any life form you dislike?
Anybody who cannot follow the very wide trial of very obvious clues and information just by making themselves aware from basic media so widely available is not worthy of making comment.
>What ‘wide trial’? I need ‘clues’ and ‘information’ from basic media?
>So where do I have to go to knock three times and ask for ‘Sid’?
Unfortunately the dislocation of humankind from the natural environment (there are now more city than rural dwellers in the world) leads to this failure to appreciate and understand the interaction within an ecosystem that is destroyed by the imposition of humans upon it.
>The dislocation of HUMANITY from hunter-gatherer/agrarian society is a >product of industry, wealth and opportunity.
>As we have globally, incrementally moved towards an industrial and even >post-industrial society the decision to take advantage of the opportunity to >improve and increase personal wealth by migration to cities is a natural and >correct aspect of human self-preservation.
>If you have any personal knowledge of human IMPOSITION upon any >ecosystem anywhere I would be delighted to see you display it.

crosspatch
January 4, 2010 10:17 pm

I generally agree with the premise of this article. It is sort of like the “rapid melting” of Himalayan glaciers. Someone produces something that resonates with another person’s world view. They spread it, other see it and spread it more and soon it becomes a “fact”. The notion that wildlife was being killed by plastic shopping bags is another such case. Someone mis-read a study, repeated their incorrect information, and soon it became the “conventional wisdom” and pointed to by movements to ban plastic bags in cities around the world.
Because such information validates someone’s world view, it becomes easy for them to believe it. They spread it as a “fact” to others who want to believe it and soon it becomes nearly impossible to get rid of the incorrect information because it ends up published in places like text books and taught as “fact” in schools.

David Ball
January 4, 2010 10:18 pm

Wolfwalker, you ever been near any wolves? I mean other than captive?

January 4, 2010 10:44 pm

Willis Eschenbach (21:54:09) : Mike D. … you’ll have to support that claim with some evidence.
Sorry. In the interests of brevity I gave a link to a site that contains 46 refs on the topic. Here are a few of them:
Regarding predator-prey, extinction and irruption, see:
Kay, Charles E., and Randy T. Simmons, eds. 2002. Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature. University of Utah Press
Regarding pre-Columbian populations see:
Denevan, William. 1976. The Native Population of the Americas in 1492. Univ. of Wisconsin Press
Regarding historical human impacts see:
Woods, William, et al. eds. 2009. Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek’s Vision. Springer
William Denevan. 1992. The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the American Association of Geographers v. 82 n. 3 (Sept. 1992)
Blackburn, Thomas C. and Kat Anderson, eds. 1993.Before The Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians. Malki Press – Ballena Press
Boyd, Robert, ed. 1999. Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press.
Thomas M. Bonnicksen, M. Kat Anderson, Henry T. Lewis, Charles E. Kay, and Ruthann Knudson. 1999. Native American influences on the development of forest ecosystems. In: Szaro, R. C.; Johnson, N. C.; Sexton, W. T.; Malk, A. J., eds. Ecological stewardship: A common reference for ecosystem management. Vol. 2. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd: 439-470.
Stewart, Omer C. 2002. Forgotten Fires — Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Edited and with Introductions by Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson. University of Oklahoma Press.
Regarding aboriginal vs. lightning fires see:
Kay, Charles E. Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? A Comparison of Aboriginal and Lightning Ignition Rates in the United States. 2007. in R.E. Masters and K.E.M. Galley (eds.) Proceedings of the 23rd Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference: Fire in Grassland and Shrubland Ecosystems, pp 16-28. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL.
I could list more. They may all be found at various subsites of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment: http://westinstenv.org
W.I.S.E. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and a collaboration of environmental scientists, resource professionals and practitioners, and the interested public. We provide a free, on-line set of post-graduate courses in environmental studies, currently fifty Topics in eight Colloquia, each containing book and article reviews, original papers, and essays. In addition, we present three Commentary sub-sites, a news clipping sub-site, and a fire tracking sub-site. Reviews and original articles are archived in our Library.
We strive to be cutting-edge. We have a Paleobotany/Paleoclimatology subsite with many of your favorite authors. We don’t cover climate issues to the degree WUWT does, but we frequently cite and link to posts here. Our primary foci are forests and fire science, landscape history, and wildlife science.

Pat Moffitt
January 4, 2010 10:45 pm

Clive
prairies are maintained by climate, grazing and fire. Within the controls of climate the fire cycle is exceedingly important- it must be remembered that fire is now artificially suppressed. It was thought fires raged on Native American land every 1 to 3 years. (Prairies produce more food) Places like the scrub pine forest of Long Island and New Jersey burned yearly until recently- the burning opening up broad swatches of grass land as a result. What we too often see now bears little resemblance to a natural forest because of fire control. Unfortunately a consequence of fire suppression is a precipitous drop in ph in ponds and streams especially pine forests covering low buffering granitic rock. The great brook trout populations (now gone) in upstate New York were the result of the great Adirondack fire around the turn of the last century and the alkaline ash produced as a by product

J.Hansford
January 4, 2010 11:01 pm

LB (19:03:05) :
Splendid article. I’ve often wondered about the oft claimed species extinctions. No names were ever given.
Having said that, I do worry about fish stocks and certain species like bluefin tuna. More alarmist misrepresentation or are fish stocks and bluefin tuna in particular under serious threat?
————————————————————-
Don’t worry about fish stocks. They are fine…… Fisheries management is not based on science, it is based on ideology and the same statistical gymnastics we see in AGW hockey stick graphs and tree ring series is rampant amoung marine biologists…..
As an ex commercial fisherman, I can attest to the rather bizarre use of fishermens logbooks and their use as data for fish stock assessments.
However, fishermens log books don’t give data on fishstocks. They simply show that some fishermen are better than others. Any other assumption gleened from logbooks is just guessing…. and that is not good science. It probably isn’t even science.
Secondly, marine biologists can’t find fish if their lives depended on it.

Richard deSousa
January 4, 2010 11:06 pm

Another nonsense product of the stupid Drake Equation.

January 4, 2010 11:10 pm

Omilteme cottontail rabbit, Sylvilagus insonus, 1991 – Reason for extinction unknown, species known only from 3 specimens collected in 1991.
Looks like it was collected to death.

E.M.Smith
Editor
January 4, 2010 11:38 pm

Ought not we be able to go to museums and take DNA from ‘collections’ of passenger pigeons and sylvilagus insonus et al and ‘womp up a new batch’?
We can certainly sequence the skin cells. And PCR reactors ought give us a lot of gene copies to work with. (Heck, folks were talking about sequencing DNA from Neanderthals and reconstructing a mammoth…)
I know folks have made viruses “from scratch”; and in high school my kid made a transgenic ‘glow in the dark’ bacteria…
There are even folks who will clone your cat for you.
Are we really that far from using preserved samples of DNA instead of live cells? Is the nucleus that screwed up in drying?
Just thinking… All those drawers full of dead birds and rabbit skins and all.

J.Peden
January 5, 2010 12:25 am

Alan Cheetham (21:57:30) :
“The bitter cold and unrelenting storms that pummeled Saint Matthew Island in the winter of 1964 … From 6,000 reindeer entering the winter of 1964, only 42 reindeer survived”
They could have used a bit of warming.

I read that on the Yamal penninsula the Yamal people make do partly by husbanding some of the 500,000 Reindeer there – maybe all? So it’s probably no coincidence that Briffa found GW’s Global Mean temp. to have struck a few trees in that region?/just kidding

Mr. Alex
January 5, 2010 12:33 am

“only three mammals have gone extinct in the last 500 years. These were the Bluebuck antelope, South Africa; the Algerian gazelle, Algeria; and the Omilteme cottontail rabbit, Mexico.”
With regards to Africa, what about the Quagga? This subspecies of Zebra was endemic to South Africa and became extinct in 1883.
Other extinct African mainland mammals include:
– Ursus arctos crowtheri (1844, North Africa)
– Phacochoerus aethiopicus aethiopicus (1900, South Africa)
– Alcelaphus buselaphus buselaphus (1923, North Africa)
Other African extinctions listed on Wiki without dates
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_animals_of_Africa

J.Peden
January 5, 2010 12:50 am

Are we really that far from using preserved samples of DNA instead of live cells? Is the nucleus that screwed up in drying?
‘Sounds offhand more like Pandora’s Box, but there’s probably no stopping it if it’s possible, imo.
But I read one American Indian’s logic on death – which I took to also apply to even species death – to the effect that, “Things must die in order to make room for more life”, as being very deceptively incisive once I finally tried to see what he was saying, and possibly even helpful toward some perspective on our condition and meaning. One among them also argued pretty convincingly, at least to me, that a regular birth was no less miraculous than a virgin birth. So maybe we don’t need to play around very much, as source of amazement and simple mastery at least. I don’t know, though.

tallbloke
January 5, 2010 1:11 am

Jim Watson (14:32:55) :
It appears the only species headed for extinction is the increasingly rare Alarmist Globulus Warmus.

Last seen on a private jet heading south.

January 5, 2010 1:34 am

Willis, I hereby nominate you for a Reformed Nobel Prize. You are bringing back “citizens’ science” in a way that is broad, interdisciplinary, friendly, understandable, topical, adequately accurate, checkable, and, most important, abiding by the true spirit of Scientific Method. This is a service to humankind.
Thank you.

Gail Combs
January 5, 2010 1:42 am

Bill Tuttle (23:10:13) :
Omilteme cottontail rabbit, Sylvilagus insonus, 1991 – Reason for extinction unknown, species known only from 3 specimens collected in 1991.
Looks like it was collected to death.

Looks like a new gene mutation…that “was collected to death”
No one ever bothers to mention that genes mutate creating new subspecies that often merge back with the original or die off before becoming a viable subspecies.
This happened in the Seneca Army Depot, (Romulus NY) when they enclosed the base and a white deer. Now there is a whole herd called the “Seneca White deer” a “sport” that would normally be preferentially hunted by predators and die out. Without the high fences to force inbreeding and keep out predators, I doubt the subspecies would have bee created.
Hunters from the hunt club on my property tell me they have seen/taken white, piebalds and even black deer in this region (NC). I asked after seeing a black deer.

January 5, 2010 1:56 am

Lucy Skywalker (01:34:24) :
I should add “and open to the most stringent online peer-review system developed”.

David Schofield
January 5, 2010 2:01 am

Google seem to have added a “creationist” advert to the end of the “corpses” article.

David Schofield
January 5, 2010 2:02 am

Google seems to have added a “creationist” advert to the end of the “corpses” article.

E.M.Smith
Editor
January 5, 2010 2:09 am

KDK (15:09:37) : I hear what you are saying, but humans ARE the most destructive species.
Nah, it’s fire ants. They move in and everything else is eaten. If you don’t poison them, the local fauna is toast. Almost as bad is Florida Pythons. Eat anything that moves.
Army ants too, come to think of it. And the savannah of Africa only looks like it does because elephants destroy the trees that try to grow…
Oh, and don’t even think of being in warm waters full of poisonous jelly fish like near Australia.
Then there is that fungus doing in a frog species a week… it’s pretty destructive too.
And oh man, you do NOT want to be near a hungry polar bear without a big gun. If it’s meat, it’s gonna be bear poo real soon…
You know, it’s just a dog eat dog world out there. No, really…

Gail Combs
January 5, 2010 2:12 am

Mike D. (19:51:24) :
“I heart you Willis, but this essay is way off the mark. Yes, I agree, the The Theory of Island Biogeography is utter crap, and maybe this essay will help to bury it, but…
Wildlife population change is governed by predator-prey relationships. Not habitat. Not climate change. Predator-prey…..
Vast tracts of Amazonia, considered “wilderness” today, have in fact been occupied for thousands of years by human beings who burned and altered the forests. Terra preta anthropogenic soils cover an area the size of France and Spain combined.
In 1492 some 50,000,000 people lived in the Americas. A hundred years later the population had fallen by 90% or more. Whole civilizations disappeared. Historians refer to the die-off as the American Holocaust.
The loss of the key predators and key landscape burners changed animal populations and gave rise to dense forests such as have not been seen before during the Holocene, which many refer to as the Anthropocene….
If I may, I cordially invite one and all to visit the W.I.S.E. Colloquium – History of Western Landscapes for the most cutting edge findings:
http://westinstenv.org/histwl

Mike, Thanks for the added information. When ever I hear about de-forestation and species extinction, I think of all those Mammoths herds driven over cliffs, all the slash and burn Ag in prehistoric times and the stone walls wandering through the forests of New England where open farm fields used to be.
Arm chair envromentalists (city folk) seem to think species, the climate, and the landscape is static, (It is not). And they think bambi and bears are cuddly. I still remember the fool in Yellowstone standing between a mother and her cub with his back to mom snapping pictures of the cub. If that cub had cried he would have been very mangled dead meat.
This hilarious story gives a true picture of “bambi” after he grows up. http://www.upmag.net/deer.html

January 5, 2010 2:12 am

Willis, for support for your critique see book Tropical Deforestation And Species Extinction eds. Whitmore & Sayer 1992, chapter 6 by Brown & Brown; largely available on net in Google Books.
This chapter is about the alleged massive losses of species from the allegedly diabolically threatened Brazilian rainforests. The authors ridicule this alarmist body of popular and even scholarly belief. They state that there is no good evidence for high extinction rates in either the Amazonian or the Atlantic rainforests. One reason for this is that the Amazon rainforest is species-rich only in certain special areas – not everywhere.
Somebody above said that we in Australia had exterminated the Tasmanian Aborigines. It has been strongly argued that the main culprits were introduced diseases to which the unfortunate indigenes lacked resistance. See K. Windschuttle, The Fabrication Of Aboriginal History, Vol. 1.

Tony Hansen
January 5, 2010 2:23 am

Willis,
I believe that the Logicus Politicio – a very rare bird indeed -has not been sighted since around about the signing of the American Constitution. I may be mistaken here and would very much like to be proved wrong.
(Also the Test Wristspinner, a weaver of mysterious webs, is now believed to be extinct in New Zealand, England and the West Indies).

E.M.Smith
Editor
January 5, 2010 2:31 am

Layne Blanchard (15:24:16) : I assume then, the majority of extinctions are of the family insecta?
The beetles alone are 1/5 of all species of plants and animals on the planet. Beetles are about 1/2 of all insect species. (So insects are about 2/5 of all plant and animal species).
The world is full of bugs, and most of them are beetles… about 1/4 million species…
http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0502.htm
http://www.amazon.com/Inordinate-Fondness-Beetles-Arthur-Evans/dp/product-description/0520223233
Or looked at another way: This is a plant dominated by insect species, most of which are beetles. Oh, and a few minor things of no real importance other than as bug food, like birds and mammals, in terms of species counts.

E.M.Smith
Editor
January 5, 2010 2:36 am

JR (15:59:02) : I am a proud member of P.E.T.A. – People Eating Tasty Animals.
What was that Alaska quote?
~”There is room for all the endangered species in Alaska: Right next to the peas and potatoes on the plate!”

Louis Hissink
January 5, 2010 2:50 am

James W (15:40:47) :
“What has happened to science? Has this infection condemned all facets to lies, exaggerations? Is there not a single aspect of the sciences that this mentality has not corrupted? All of this is or will take the sciences to the brink of the toilet bowl. The masses will then never trust someone who say they are a scientist and has done the research here is the answer to the pressing question….”
What has happened to science indeed – it can be traced to Charles Lyell and his successors after he finished writing and publishing Principles of Geology ~ 1832 and afterwards.
Geology then was somewhat amateurish and a subject much influenced by the clerical geologists of the day who, correctly, identified many past geological catastrophes during the geological record but were hampered by their a priori religious beliefs which only admitted one – the Noachian Flood.
Cuvier, in France, offered a solution to their dillemma by suggesting that God could have caused many past catastrophes but was summarily dismissed by the English geologists who relied on a strict interpretation of the Scriptures; Charles Lyell was a devout Scottish Methodist, by the way.
At the same time Europe and England were still reeling from the after affects of the Jacobin Revolution in France, and after Wellington’s army was demobilised, England had serious civil problems. The Tories, or conservatives, were in power and hard to remove from the Parliament.
Charles Lyell was a Whig, or Liberal (in the classic, not the modern sense), and tackled the problem of how to intellectually counter the Tories and their political philosophy that was based on monarchism and the divinity of royalty in the sense of justifying their political power as God given. The Whig agenda was how to counter the Biblical authority while at the same time, accepting it for what it was. The logic was to diminish Biblical authority and thus Tory authority and in order to do that Lyell had to demonstrate that what was written in the Old Testament was in effect literature, not empirical fact. In this he was very successful and quickly, once the tomes were published, took over the London Geological Society, and with his fellow Whigs, the parliament.
But it’s what Lyell did to empirical science that is the problem, for while the literal interpretation of scripture was flawed, in that Ussher’s date for creation, 4004BC, was physically impossible and arose from confusing Earth with World, it was never the less accepted as fact.
Lyell’s rhetorical trick was to remove Ussher’s date back into time as an earlier “creation”. He did this by lawyerly persuasion, convincing his opponents that to accept this earlier time of Creation to be a reasonable one.
The problem for Lyell was that shifting a fiction from one date to an earlier date doesn’t change it’s fictionality, and any deductions made from such an assumption have to be fictional as well.
This application of the scientific method is pseudoscience, and it is very pertinent to realise that sciences which rely on dialectics assuming empirically unverified starting assumptions from which the scientific method is then used to formulate “tests”, which are then used to verify the deduced hypothesis, are those in which in-situ experiments are impossible.
As Don Scott has written in his readable book “The Electric Sky”, such sciences tend to become dogmatic, and extremely resistant to contradictory facts, principally because while the scientific method is being deployed in a thoroughly professional manner, it is, non the less, pseudoscience whose verity is founded in arguing the case as a lawyer would.
Sound science does not prove an hypothesis, but attempts to DISPROVE it.
As Willis posed at the start, where are the corpses? As an active field geologist I would suggest that one will never find corpses of avians to support a preferred hypothesis of extinction – I personally drove into a flock of wrens along the Great Northern Highway near Halls Creek during 2008 and on reaching base, discovered a corpse in the radiator grill. Scientist that I am, mindful of the biologists quandary of where the trillions of beaks, feathers of decedent avians were accumulating, I placed the victim, whom we shall name as Wren, onto the ground.
Within 24 hours the ants had completely devoured the corpse – feathers, the lot. This was one of those heads up experiences and leads to the thoroughly scientific deduction that dead biomass does not accumulate on the earth’s surface within an active biosphere.
Today I had lunch with another exploration geologist and we compared notes on the appearance of “fish” within holes dug by mining companies. These “holes” were dug in arid areas subject to the northern Australian Monsoon season, when they fill up with water after the wet season.
In 3 separate independent sites fish were found in the water after the wet season – two holes dug in Proterozoic rocks (1100 million years old), one in alluvials (1 million years old).
These are empirical facts which are rarely, if ever, reported in the MSJ (mainstream journals), and if the editor is open-minded, in other scientific publications.
Science that ignores empirical fact is bound to find itself in an intellectual cul-de-sac in which much argument over results occurs.
Willis has skewered another pseudoscience.

Allan M
January 5, 2010 2:53 am

Mass extinction fears are a lot of Dodo Doodoo. (not a scientific assessment)
Maybe it’s: GIVE US THE MONEY
Seriously, on the British Bucket Company this am. was a bird molester wanting to reintroduce the White Eagle to Britain. These critters seem to prefer living elsewhere. (who can blame them) Why can’t they leave the little buggers alone? What makes them imagine that these eagles are theirs to do as they like? I will not pay for their hobby.

ian middleton
January 5, 2010 3:02 am

The species most likely to go extinct in the next 100,000 years is humans. They will see to it. The beetles of course will say business as usual. The next head of the IPCC will be the polar bear.

January 5, 2010 3:03 am

Willis,
Thank you for a very informative post, some of the comments above show there ignorance by reading you post upside down. Your point of discussion was obvious to me, if you were to cover all, for those with nothing better to do but criticize, then we would be reading beyond next year, it is a shame that God made so many idiots, but then perhaps Wolfwalker really is another species.

January 5, 2010 3:15 am

Gail Combs (02:12:55) :
Arm chair envromentalists (city folk) seem to think species, the climate, and the landscape is static, (It is not). And they think bambi and bears are cuddly.
When I was ten, I took a couple of shotgun pellets in the back from some idiot who had driven out to eastern Long Island from Brooklyn — when he no longer saw back-to-back houses, he figured he was in the Deep Woods. Fortunately, he also figured his 12-gauge was a Kimber, because was about 80 yards from us when he fired.
What made it more ridiculous was that I was helping my buddy paint the word “COW” on the side of one of his dad’s Guernseys at the time…

January 5, 2010 3:16 am

Dear Willis Eschenbach
I don’t know you but can I just say thank you for producing another masterly account of an environmental issue. Everything you write is well written, well referenced and thoughtful. I suspect you are not to popular in conventional academic circles, but on the internet, your a hero! Thanks.
That island populations are most susceptible to extinction raises the possibility that the paper’s central thesis could be generalised to see if it was applicable to island language , if not island tribal “extinctions.” As with Australia, what defines an island would be a problem. Certainly, the many native communities of areas such as the Amazon and New Guinea,an be considered island communities, as the the rugged terrain separates them so effectively. Just a thought.
Thanks again and keep up the good work.
Martin J

January 5, 2010 3:36 am

Mr. Alex (00:33:47) :
With regards to Africa, what about the Quagga? This subspecies of Zebra was endemic to South Africa and became extinct in 1883.
Subspecies are not separate species. And the South Africans are having some success at turning the quagga into a Lazarus Animal…
http://www.quaggaproject.org/

40 Shades of Green
January 5, 2010 3:52 am

Great article. I really enjoyed it.
40 Shades

Chris Schoneveld
January 5, 2010 4:05 am

Willis Eschenbach (19:54:25) : “A friend of mine caught a single bluefin tuna that sold for $15,000”
He is still your friend?

Gail Combs
January 5, 2010 4:27 am

Green Dragon (22:09:24) :
“Holmes (20:29:42) :
The extinction of species is not an urban myth because most animals do not live in the urbes. ….”

You both forgot that urbanization leads to a decline in human populations. Primitive farming requires lots of cheap labor aka children. That is why third world countries with a large population engaged in subsistance level farming have the highest birth rates.
It’s simply not economical to have a large family in an urban area. It’s expensive, the children don’t help support the family as they do on the farms, and they take too much time away from the parents who are focusing on their educations and careers.
“now, mounting evidence, from rich nations and poor, strongly suggests that the population explosion is fizzling. Earlier this month, for the first time ever, the United Nations Population Division convened expert demographers to consider aspects of low and tumbling fertility rates. That discussion is a step toward a near-Copernican shift in the way our species looks at itself. Never before have birthrates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long all around the world….
The free-fall in fertility can best be seen in World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision, an eye-opening reference book published by the United Nations, from which most data used here are drawn. From 1950 to 1955, the global “total fertility rate” (roughly speaking, the average number of children born per woman per lifetime) was five. That was explosively above the so-called replacement rate of 2.1 children, the level needed to keep a population from falling over time, absent immigration. This scary growth continued for about 15 years until, by 1975 to 1980, fertility had fallen to four children per woman. Fifteen years after that, the rate had fallen to just below three. Today the total fertility rate is estimated at 2.8, and sinking.”
From The Bomb that Fizzled http://www.pop.org/00000000113/the-bomb-that-fizzled
by the by forced sterilization was alive and well as late as the 1970’s here in the USA
http://www.academon.com/lib/paper/106302.html
This site list links to possible forced sterilization programs around the world.
This study indicates an unusual pattern to the birth rate decline that may provide possible support for outside intervention to reduce fertility.
“In Chapter 2, Barney Cohen reviews levels, differentials, and trends in fertility for more than 30 countries from 1960 to 1992. He finds evidence of fertility decline in Botswana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, confirming the basic results of the DHS. What is new here though is his finding that the fertility decline appears to have occurred across cohorts of women at all parities, rather than just among women at middle and higher parities, as might have been expected on the basis of experience in other parts of the world. He also presents evidence that fertility may have begun to fall in parts of Nigeria and possibly in Senegal.” http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=2207&page=4
SIGHhh, sorry Willis, but I really do get sick of the “humans are evil and must be exterminated” crap so I did a quick peak into the population is exploding myth. It is interesting that you can find stats for the USA that vary from a 1.3 birth rate to a 2.1 birth rate. I guess it depends on how you count all the illegals and anchor babies.

Bud Moon
January 5, 2010 4:28 am

Willis,
Why no mention of the quagga?
Perhaps because it is now counted as a subspecies of the zebra that it is not included as an extict mammal. But I would have thought it was a pretty distict subspecies and should be included. Destroyed by hunting, the last of its kind died in Amsterdam Zoo in 1883.

40 Shades of Green
January 5, 2010 4:36 am

HI Willis,
I diverted over to http://www.RedList.org and found it really interesting. Well worth a visit to check out what Willis is saying.
Not to quibble, but it would appear that two other continental forest dwelling mammals have appeared on the list since you last looked. One is the Auroch (Bos primigenius) which went extinct in about 1627. I suspect that this was due to Climate Change – the Little Ice Age to be exact.
The second was Cryptonanus ignitus (Red-bellied Gracile Mouse Opossum) which is from Argentina and would seem to be due to forest clearing.
So we have 1.
40 Shades

Chris Wright
January 5, 2010 4:37 am

Many thanks for a truly excellent and thought-provoking article. It contains two particularly obvious and very startling things.
The first is the graph. Not only are the numbers of extinctions very small, they have actually been falling since 1900.
The second thing is a fact that you, quite rightly, repeated several times: that over the last 500 years there has not been a single continental forest bird or mammal extinction.
Of course, the graph and that fact will always be open to argument and counter-argument but, unless they can be decisively shown to be wrong, then they represent a very powerful statement indeed. We are endlessly told that we are witnessing one of the great extinctions and that climate change is one of the culprits. As Willis says, there is a perfect answer to this delusion: show us the corpses.
This follows a very noticeable pattern in climate change alarmism. There are many claims from the doom-mongers that already we are suffering from the effects of catastrophic climate change, hurricanes being an obvious example. But when you look at the actual data a completely different picture emerges. In the case of hurricanes, the scientific measure (ACE) shows that hurricanes have been steadily falling in intensity over recent decades. After reading this article it seems that extinctions, too, fit this pattern.
Once again, many thanks for an excellent article.
Chris

January 5, 2010 4:56 am

Thanks for this hugely interesting deconstruction of ‘mass extinction’, be it due to the Wilson mathematics, or to the more encompassing AGW-‘its all our fault’ guilt trip.
This shows again how some scientific investigation is utilised for political interests which have nothing to do with the science. Its perhaps no surprise that the second Wilson paper you quote was published in 1992 …
It also shows how undigested snippets of such science is appropriated by the MSM and given a hugely emotional twist: if its furry or pretty, its gotta be ‘saved’.
What always gets me is that the enormous mass extinctions which took place b.h. (before humans …) are simply left aside, dinosaurs excepted.
Just as with AGW – people have a snapshot of earth history (five hundert years, or even 1000 is not exactly ‘long term’ when compared to the four billion years this planet has been around), and then insist everything has to stay just as it is now.
What hybris, what arrogance! Its on a par with disregarding the sun’s influence on climate – its like trying to stop plate tectonics, its like saying that evolution should stop now, at the present time, because we humans now can do better …
Recently, so-called fossil species, such as the Coelacanth, have been found to survive in refuges in the Indian Ocean. They have been found due to new technologies, and are not extinct. Refuges play a major part in the survival of species – its not as if the physical environment hasn’t gone through major upheavals before Homo sapiens got going.
Also recently, totally new species have been discovered, see here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4688000.stm
Personally, I’d love to give the tree kangaroos a chance to supplant us once we’ve become extinct …
Can’t wait for your next article, Mr Eschenbach!

Demesure
January 5, 2010 5:00 am

Willis,
You should have a look at the Smithsonian 2009 symposium presentations : the fact that the species-areas model is junkscience is known to many biologists even if there is a strong clique which still clings to it like Mann & Co cling to the HS : http://striweb.si.edu/tropical_extinction/presentations.htm
And of course, publicly, the controversy is willfully ignored by the catastrophist media.
Nigel E. Stork’s presentation made the same analysis (funny he starts with the same dodo illustration as you) and concludes by :
􀂋Global extinction rates largely based on speciesGlobal species-
area relationship
􀂋Loss or change of habitat does not automatically translate into species extinctionstranslate extinctions
􀂋Global extinction of species much rarer than widely thoughtwidely thought
􀂋Mostly confined to islandsMostly islands
􀂋Mostly a phenomenon of vertebrates
􀂋Extinction threats vary for different taxaExtinction taxa
􀂋Some groups may be much less threatenedSome threatened-
‘Relative extinction rates rates’
􀂋CoCo-extinctions probably also rare
Another interesting point shown in the intro presentation is how massive extinction skeptics are treated by the “consensus” guys ( http://striweb.si.edu/tropical_extinction/presentations/TEC1Laurance.pdf ). Here’s an example of their comment on heretic Wright, not so unfamiliar to climate skeptics (the caracteristic intolerance of the catastrophists is striking !) :
Comments from referees:
– “Their argument is just plain
dangerous … We should hit
them hard hard—and with one
voice. ”
– “I know you have to work with
Wright, but you you’re being far too
diplomatic and nice. ”

Josualdo
January 5, 2010 5:56 am

Jonathan:
On: ““27,000 extinctions per year” to “26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year””.
I had no idea where the percentages could come from. Thanks.

January 5, 2010 6:20 am

If a species becomes extinct in a forest and no one is around to watch it, does it count?
The great problem with Willis’ discussion of the failing of the species area curve is the reliance it puts on the extinction data. Just as it is difficult to prove that there are no black swans, it is difficult to conclusively demonstrate that a species is extinct. There is always another grove to survey. Consequently, ecologists are reluctant to declare a species extinct, and the red data list is probably riddled with extinct species.
The ivory billed woodpecker is probably, I agree, extinct. This is a large noisy bird that hasn’t been had a confirmed sighting since 1944, and still the red list has it as critically endangered. Imagine how much worse the data quality is in the tropical forests are, where there are many more species than the US and many fewer ornithologists. The lack of change in the red list over the last decade reflects this lack of data as much as any change in the level of risk.
Because of the shape of the species area curve, most species are safe until most of the forest has gone. So we would expect early extinctions to be dominated by island species exterminated by aliens and species hunted. We are moving into a period where habitat loss will be the main driver of extinction. There are already numerous examples of local and regional extinctions, foretellers of global extinctions.

Sharon
January 5, 2010 6:24 am

C’mon, Mr. Eschenbach, admit it. Your research is funded by Big Bird.
Seriously though, very well done article. Thanks!

Pat Moffitt
January 5, 2010 6:26 am

The most dangerous life form in history is obviously the cyanobacteria. It was they that produced free oxygen- basically oxidizing the entire planet and making life very difficult for the previously very happy anaerobes.

A C Osborn
January 5, 2010 6:29 am

M. Simon (16:08:10) :
BTW the Seals are leaving San Francisco and moving to Monterrey. Evidently the politics of Clint Eastwood is more amenable to them than the politics of SF.
http://www.scpr.org/news/2009/12/29/san-franciscos-famous-sea-lions-have-vanished/
So the San Francisco Seals have become extinct then!

vigilantfish
January 5, 2010 7:26 am

Louis Hissink (02:50:35) :
Fascinating comment – with a really different interpretation of Lyell’s work. Must read up on this again; most of the academic analysis comes from a left-wing perspective, and thus misses possible leftist ideological underpinnings of the science. The general histories, however, do stress that Lyell was reluctant to accept Darwin’s theory of natural selection and his religious sensibilities were partially the source of that reluctance (the other source being his wounded pride at being surpassed by his former acolyte).
Regarding the fish appearing in holes resulting from mining operations in arid regions in Australia – how far inland were these sites? Any theories as to how the fish materialized?

Craig Loehle
January 5, 2010 7:47 am

Excellent post. We made the point in 2007 from a theoretical standpoint that alarmist predictions of mass extinctions due to climate change were unsupported (though Willis’ facts are much more persuasive):
Daniel B. Botkin, Henrik Saxe, Miguel B. Araújo, Richard Betts, Richard Bradshaw, Tomas Cedhagen, Peter Chesson, Margaret B. Davis, Terry Dawson, Julie Etterson, Daniel P. Faith, Simon Ferrier, Antoine Guisan, Anja Skjoldborg Hansen, David Hilbert, Peter Kareiva, Craig Loehle, Chris Margules, Mark New, Flemming Skov, Matthew J. Sobel, David Stockwell, and Jens-Christian Svenning. 2007. Forecasting Effects of Global Warming on Biodiversity. Bioscience 57:227-236

Barelysane
January 5, 2010 7:51 am

Just a thought, but does the 37% extinction rate from the nature article only apply to mammals and birds or is it all life form (i’m particularly thinking insects here)?
Reason being there can be a remarkable level of specialisation in many insect species making the especially sensitive to changes in their environment.
While i do think the 37% is a little on the high side (to say the least) i’m concerned this may not be a realistic like for like comparrison.

kidd
January 5, 2010 7:53 am

This is an excellent “back-of-the-envelope” examination.
It clearly proves that previous wild claims of extiction are off by at least a factor of ten. Maybe off by a lot more than a factor of ten.
You need to get this published.
Also – one poster remarked about the recent practice of reclassifying identical species based on their location as different species. I would like to see your published version address this as well.

Steve Keohane
January 5, 2010 8:18 am

Is this the same Arrhenius of CO2 measurements? Why does CO2 modeling and species extinction modeling produce the same ridiculous results? Is this man and his adherents the root of the error?

Tim Clark
January 5, 2010 8:22 am

A long story for you, sorry.
Many of you have heard of the Endangered Ozark Cavefish?
Years ago when I lived in Arkansas I rented a pasture (about 400 acres) owned by the City of Fayetteville just on the outskirts, but within the city limits of Fayetteville. About twenty years ago they put a four lane bypass around the western edge of the city which included part of the pasture. There was a natural spring that interferred with the establishment of an exit ramp to the frontage road on the east edge of the pasture. The Corp of Engineers required the highway department to dig a 6′ X 6′ X 12′ “cave” lined with concrete filled cinder blocks to protect the road from slumping, not to protect any species. Understand, this cave was human manufactured. There was no hole prior to its development, I watched them install it. At the outlet end they installed a 6″ X 10′ steel culvert and buried the entire structure with several feet of soil.
Several years later when the city was going to develop about 80 acres into an industrial park, I noticed, when checking my cattle late at night during calving season, some activity around this outlet. At the time I thought nothing of it. Around three weeks later environmentalists claimed that the man-made “cave” contained the Ozark Cavefish and subsequently were able to eliminate about 50 acres from development. I think you can connect the dots here. The fish were introduced by ecothugs! The city turned it into a nature preserve. Over subsequent years a large flock of starlings established a permanent, stinking, poop covered “wilderness”.
Pardon me if I think environmental groups have an agenda and the end justifies the means, I’m not too concerned about the extinction of organisms.

JP Miller
January 5, 2010 8:28 am

Gail Combs (02:12:55) :
“Roping a Deer” — ROTFLMAO!! Living in northern California, I’ve been up close to deer, but now know that’s maybe not a great idea.

nofate
January 5, 2010 8:35 am

DirkH (20:41:41) :

Google for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, they might be of interest to you. Oh wait i got it here for you:
http://www.vhemt.org
Amazing link. Explains a lot of the craziness of the AGW alarmists. These people are full of contradictions, but their main point seems to be “I was born. I am human. I am guilty. Therefore, no babies for me. And if you don’t volunteer to do the same, we will force you to comply. But we’re not gonna tell you we’re gonna force you.” Examples from the above link:

We’re not just a bunch of misanthropes and anti-social, Malthusian misfits, taking morbid delight whenever disaster strikes humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Voluntary human extinction is the humanitarian alternative to human disasters.”</blockquote
Then, just to prove how positively enthusiastic they are about humanity, the next few sentences continue:

We don’t carry on about how the human race has shown itself to be a greedy, amoral parasite on the once-healthy face of this planet. That type of negativity offers no solution to the inexorable horrors which human activity is causing.

In all things, we must show the positive!

Rather, The Movement presents an encouraging alternative to the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth’s ecology.
As VHEMT Volunteers know, the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens… us.
Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.
When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve (if they believe in evolution), and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Nature’s “experiments” have done throughout the eons.
It’s going to take all of us going.

Then, just to prove it’s all voluntary, there’s this:

Q: Does VHEMT support China’s one-child policy?
Present Chinese government’s population policy isn’t compatible with the VHEMT perspective for two main reasons: the policy is less than voluntary, and even one child is too many.

BUT, and it’s a big BUT, couched in statist-ese to assist with difficulty in understanding by the un-annointed:

In addition, couples are encouraged to produce one offspring, rather than none.
A Draconian policy like China’s might be necessary in the future if we don’t voluntarily lower our birth rate soon.

Sign me up!
Willis Eschenbach (19:35:17) : In your reply to wolfwalker

Scientists by and large are just fools like myself attempting to make sense out of a complex world. Some are idiots, some are geniuses, and most of us are somewhere in between, neither saints nor devils.
Whether we are idiots or savants is not the point, however. Science is not a thing, it is not the scientists, it is a process. The process is that one man or woman makes a claim, and other people try to disprove that claim. If people can’t disprove the claim, then it is provisionally accepted as being true.
However, the fact that some scientist has made a claim which is later shown to be wrong does not make them an “idiot”. Wegener showed that earlier geologists were wrong … but that doesn’t make them idiots. To me, the only idiots in the game are those who walk away saying “it would be fruitless for me” to present evidence supporting their view, but who still maintain that they are right. That’s not science in any sense.

That and your further replys have made this thread a joy to read. A little common sense goes a long way, but it seems to be in short supply these days, and devalued when it rises above the usual noise. Thanks.

nofate
January 5, 2010 8:38 am

To the moderator:
Sorry, forgot to enclose the here: ” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Voluntary human extinction is the humanitarian alternative to human disasters.”</blockquote "

Claude Harvey
January 5, 2010 8:59 am

I Googled the name “Willis Eischenbach” and found a raft of derogatory hits. It would appear Mr. Eichenback has drawn the attention of the AGW “religious heresy and information purity” committee. All I can say is that the man does some pretty good work for an untrained, ignorant charlatan.
CH

Gail Combs
January 5, 2010 9:42 am

Willis Eschenbach (07:52:06) :
“….As the name suggests, the difference between an amateur scientist and a professional scientist is that the amateur scientist does science for for the love of science, while the professional does science for money. As near as I can tell, both are necessary for science to flourish.”
How correct you are Willis. The amateur scientist keep the professionals honest. Also the amateurs often bring a fresh way of looking at things that can lead to breakthroughs since they are not indoctrinated with the current orthodoxy.
Thank you for your great posts Willis.

George E. Smith
January 5, 2010 10:03 am

“”” Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Abstract
The record of continental (as opposed to island) bird and mammal extinctions in the last five centuries was analyzed to determine if the “species-area” relationship actually works to predict extinctions. Very few continental birds or mammals are recorded as having gone extinct, “””
In the US there is of course the passenger pigeon; and if they were anything like pigeonus commonus; well good riddance.
In New Zealand, the Huia is known to have gone to extinction in the very early 20th century; a great loss, and due largely to being an essential component (tail feathers) of the native ceremonial cloak ( korowai ??). Well NZ is not one of the common continents.
Then the US Eastern Elk is reported to have extincted in the 20th century. Anyone want to bet that any Eastern elk could breed with any Western elk, or even a Wapiti from New Zealand; bah humbug !
I would say it is a pretty safe bet that the number of species is increasing rather than decreasing.

January 5, 2010 10:32 am

Europe and North America showed net increases in forest area over the reporting period.
http://www.portofentry.com/site/root/resources/industry_news/4543.html

Ron de Haan
January 5, 2010 10:37 am

George E. Smith (10:03:52) :
“I would say it is a pretty safe bet that the number of species is increasing rather than decreasing”.
Right, the strawberry crab is one of the latest examples of new specie discoveries:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100105/ap_on_sc/as_taiwan_strawberry_crab
Even Science Daily has an article published on this subject:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/plants_animals/new_species/

January 5, 2010 10:43 am

Ah but there are problems. Clogged sinks.
And really. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/02/AR2009120203732.html
Relying on nature to compensate for human excesses sounds like a win-win situation — except that these resources are under stress from the very emissions we are asking them to absorb, making them less able partners in the pact.
Consider it the latest inconvenient truth about climate change.
The benefits of these natural carbon “sinks” are many: Their diverse ecosystems soak up carbon dioxide. What’s more, the international carbon enables industries to compensate for their emissions at a fraction of the price of installing cleaner technology, essentially by investing in forests; meanwhile, poorer countries that are rich in woodland profit from selling not lumber but carbon credits.

The upshot? Forests can’t do the job. They are overstressed by climate change. There is only one way to get the Lebesraum (uh that should be climate) that we need. A lot of excess humans will have to go extinct.

Gail Combs
January 5, 2010 11:28 am

kidd (07:53:37) :
Also – one poster remarked about the recent practice of reclassifying identical species based on their location as different species. I would like to see your published version address this as well.
REPLY:
Gee, does that mean each different city and town has a different species of Alley cat… and rat? Boy will that add to our endangered species lists!

Pat Moffitt
January 5, 2010 11:46 am

Willis
I commend you for your work. In line with a previous comment -perhaps we are seeing a new evolutionary model for conducting science- a scientific future where science is proposed and tested amongst the wider scientific community. Science that embraces those for whom there is no other reward than the need to attempt a solution to a question -WHY?
Certainly, science will progress at a faster rate when more eyes and minds focus on a problem. A more open scientific debate would also encourage a greater cross disciplinary analysis. McIntyre has shown the importance of cross discipline review – statistical expertise challenging the climatological application of statistics.
Currently, too much science is constrained and controlled by guilds especially those of the university. Institutionalized science can prevent new ways of perceiving problems. There are too many scientists- able to make important contributions- that have no channel to participate. The “non-guild” scientists have no vested interest to keep their ideas, their data secret to prevent other scientists from leveraging their work- from competing for grants or academic standing (And I am always intrigued why a 26 year old PhD is somehow more relevant than a 60 year old scientist with 40 years experience. I have seen the tactic even in these threads questioning where is “your” PhD to make a comment. Scientific knowledge and insight is not limited to universities)
Perhaps the greatest problem facing science is how to make it “trustable”. I find reading through these threads an answer to how the quest for a “trustable” science may be achieved- by open challenge, open positions, open questions. Too bad there isn’t an equivalent to WUWT for the biological aspects of our current environmental paradigms.
I have spent some time reading accounts of the Darwin wars of the mid to late 19th century. Climate change and many other environmental issues prove history repeats itself. The Darwin wars utilized every ugly tactic we see in the Climate wars. Evolution and Climate change were/are to some a scientific issue but for most they are merely a proxy for the much larger and passionate battle over how we view the world- a battle of belief systems. Science is always a casualty in world view wars.
Alexander Agassiz the son of Louis “viewed skeptically the more strident expressions of Darwinism and Creationism because he had seen the madness made when scientists took theory as dogma.” Perhaps work such as yours in an open forum can reduce the incidence of “madness”.
Great work- the number of comments to your post proves it was both intriguing and challenging- fundamental to the advancement of scientific understanding.

Corey
January 5, 2010 12:28 pm

If they were still out there, someone would have found them.

Researchers were actively looking for this species, and didn’t encounter one for 85 years. It was still alive, but should have been put on the “extinct” list, according to UN guidelines. Thank God they didn’t, since they are still alive and kicking.

Gremlins Thought Extinct, Found After 85 Years
http://www.livescience.com/animals/081118-long-lost-primate.html
The last sighting of this primate alive was in 1921 when live specimens were collected and processed for a museum collection.
Decades went by without another sighting. And scientists thought the pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) had possibly gone extinct. Then, in 2000, two Indonesian scientists who were trapping rats on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, reported they had accidentally trapped and killed a pygmy tarsier.

Here are 13 more that have found a way to survive supposed “extinction”.

Lazarus species: 13 ‘extinct’ animals found alive
They’re called “Lazarus species” — creatures that have disappeared, sometimes for millions of years, only to miraculously be rediscovered again in modern times. Just as Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus in the Gospel of John, so these species manage to survive. Their rediscoveries are a bewildering reminder that when given a chance, life finds a way to survive.
Coelacanth
Coelacanth are an ancient order of fish believed to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period some 65-plus million years ago. That was until 1938, when one was miraculously discovered off the east coast of South Africa near the mouth of the Chalumna River.
Bermuda Petrel
The dramatic rediscovery of the Bermuda Petrel has become one of the most inspiring stories in the history of nature conservation. Believed extinct for 330 years, the birds had not been seen since the 1620s. Then, in 1951, 18 nesting pairs were found on remote rocky islets in Castle Harbor.
Chacoan peccary
The Chacoan is the largest (by size) species of peccary, a beast that resembles a pig but hails from a different continent and cannot be domesticated. The Chacoan peccary was first described in 1930 based only on fossil records, and was believed to be extinct. Then in 1975, surprised researchers discovered one alive in the Chaco region of Paraguay.
Lord Howe Island stick insect
Sometimes referred to as “land lobsters” or “walking sausages,” the Lord Howe stick insect is considered the rarest insect in the world. Believed extinct since 1930 after being wiped off its only known native habitat on Lord Howe Island, the enormous insect was rediscovered in 2001 when fewer than 30 individuals were found living underneath a single shrub on the small islet of Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest and most isolated sea stack.
Monito del Monte
The Monito del Monte is a remarkable, diminutive marsupial believed to have been extinct for 11 million years until one was discovered in a thicket of Chilean bamboo in the southern Andes.
La Palma giant lizard
Until its recent rediscovery in 2007, the La Palma giant lizard was believed to have been extinct for around 500 years. It was found again so recently that the IUCN Red List still lists the animal as extinct.

Rest here:
http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/photos/lazarus-species-13-extinct-animals-found
Hopefully our race will be as determined to survive as these species are.

Jack Simmons
January 5, 2010 12:30 pm

Willis,
Thank you for a wonderful article.
My favorite story of what is and is not a species, the infamous Preble Jumping Mouse.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114308454607606045.html
Now a little thought experiment:
Imagine a protected Preble Mouse south of the Colorado/Wyoming border. He crosses over into Wyoming. Now he is no longer protected, as he is not an endangered species.
South of the border I would be in big trouble if I allowed my dog to catch and eat him.
North of the border, no problem.
Isn’t science wonderful?

January 5, 2010 12:40 pm

It is not just Climate Wars. There was also Edison vs Westinghouse in the current wars.
http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2007/12/roots.html

Richard Wakefield
January 5, 2010 1:17 pm

“As the name suggests, the difference between an amateur scientist and a professional scientist is that the amateur scientist does science for for the love of science, while the professional does science for money. ”
I have to take a bit of issue with this. It is likely true for climate scientists, but I know many geologists and zoologists and they all are surprised they get paid for what they love to do.
I too consider myself an “amateur” (aka hobby) scientist.

Michael W
January 5, 2010 1:22 pm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/4409958/Extinct-ibex-is-resurrected-by-cloning.html
Maybe OT, but I think its remarkable, that for the first time in the history of this planet, an extinct species has re-emerged. (even if it was for a mere 7 minutes)

Harry Eagar
January 5, 2010 1:23 pm

Your mammal list is short by (at least) Steller’s sea cow. Atlantic gray whale and Caribbean monk seal.

Pat Moffitt
January 5, 2010 1:29 pm

M. Simon
We are not even close to an understanding on the various CO2 uptake rates for specific segments within the environment! We may not even be close for the net CO2 budget of the ecosystem as a whole. But lets assume for a moment we go the forest route. Which trees do we plants? Is CO2 uptake linear over the life of a tree or must we harvest older trees if they are found to be less efficient as a CO2 sink. What fire suppression scenario is applied to this forest system? Is the forest to be managed to maximize CO2 or are other considerations such as diversity allowed. What non forest species are sacrificed as a result? Tree selection will have dramatic impacts on the resulting colonizers. What metric do you use to balance the various competing ecosystem needs.
Forests with all their benefits have a negative impact on groundwater recharge when compared to grassland or agriculture- very generally about 20% reduction (Mass. Quabbin Reservoir studies). Dense mature forests also have a tendency to reduce or eliminate the flow in head water tributaries- which is critical habitat for many species. Forests especially conifers (partially a result of acidic stem flow) change the entire pH structure of associated watersheds and shift plant and animal assemblages negatively from a diversity stand point. Forest composition also changes the food web within aquatic systems- (the macroinvertebrate shredders have a real hard time with pine needles compared to deciduous detritus. Conifers reduce system energy, diversity and biomass. What happens to the understory plant communities in these new CO2 driven forest and what tradeoffs are allowed?
I can similarly give any number of reasons for forests. The point being that environmental systems are far too complex to fit with “simple” solutions. A case could probably be made that a massive forced change to forest would have a greater environmental impact than temperature associated with climate change predictions (at least on the more reasonable lower end). And as always every environmental impact requires choosing a point of reference- whether or not we acknowledge the choice. Which systems are to be judged more valuable?
Perverse consequences are an outcome of many management strategies trying to control complex systems. Bio fuels cause more pollution and green energy uses a massively larger footprint than coal or nuclear. There are never win wins in ecosystems. Equity and justice are human constructs not natural paradigms. A first step is to choose what you want and what you are willing to risk or pay as a result. This also requires understanding there is always a price.
The devil is always in the detail and the devil appears more often when the details are not considered.

George E. Smith
January 5, 2010 3:09 pm

“”” Harry Eagar (13:23:13)
Your mammal list is short by (at least) Steller’s sea cow. Atlantic gray whale and Caribbean monk seal. “””
So the Atlantic Gray whale was somehow different from the California gray whale other than its chosen habitat, and the monk seal that liked the beaches of the Carribean, is different from the ones that simply like other places.
Migration for whatever reason, does not equate to extinction in my book.
The New Zealand “Kingfish”, is the same fish as the California/Baja “yellowtail; Seriola Dorsalis; just twice as big; which is the same as sailfish. Pacific sailfish are more than twice the size of Atlantic sails, but are still the same fish.
Hey Gaia set up her rules so any animal that doesn’t like where it’s at can move somewhere else that it likes better, and so can plants, but at a slower rate. It’s like the ballroom dancing phenomenon; every dancing couple on the floor heads for the empty space on the floor, no matter where that empty space moves to.

Richard G.
January 5, 2010 3:20 pm

edward (15:13:44) :
“I had this discussion with the radical environmentalists at Realclimate asking that they name one species that went extinct as a result of Global Warming.
The only one they could come up with was the Central American Golden Toad.”
It is now thought that the decline of some Central American frogs is due to the biologists who study them. Fungal spores hitch hike on the people who are handling the frogs. In this case, tragically, the biologists are the vector.
It is impossible to observe the environment without effecting it in unknown ways. Known as the observer effect.

Editor
January 5, 2010 4:06 pm

Willis Eschenbach (13:50:22) :
“So, until the standard world of science catches up, I’ll publish my work here. Seems to me that it gets a much more critical and inquisitive examination here. That’s why I don’t just publish and run, I stay to explain and defend my work, and to admit and correct my errors.”
—…—…
What errors? 8<)

Les Johnson
January 5, 2010 5:01 pm

Willis: As always, great work.
In my database, I have the IUCN 2003 stating 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.
That’s 25 documented extinctions in the last 6 years, of all plant and animal species.
Indeed, where are the bodies?
As a side bar, I note that the IUCN does not keep old references. The 2003 and 2008 report are both gone, 404ed. They also no longer state the start point of 1500 in their literature.
This was 2008, and now gone. Can data go extinct?
http://www.iucnredlist.org/documents/2008RL_stats_table_3b_v1223294385.pdf

Les Johnson
January 5, 2010 5:07 pm

In a similar vein, this group tried to show how modeling could be used for Bigfoot.
They comment on the dangers of modeling. This group, tongue in cheek, modeled Bigfoot’s future habitats in a warming climate. Basically, GIGO.
“”We in the modeling community need to be a bit more humble about how precise our predictions are, and acknowledge the errors of estimates, which are huge, more than we do,”” says Rahbek. “”It’s just damn hard to predict the future.””
Unlikely as it sounds, Lozier’s paper scooped work by another group. “”We were trying to do the same thing for the yeti,”” says ecologist Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen. Like Lozier, he wanted to show that models could turn dubious data into plausible-looking predictions.
References
1. Lozier, J. D., Aniello, P. & Hickerson, M. J. J. Biogeogr. published online. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2009.02152.x (2009).
http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090707/full/news.2009.641.html?s=news_rss

Les Johnson
January 5, 2010 5:09 pm

correction:
That’s 25 documented extinctions in the last 6 years, of all plant and animal species.
Should be:
That’s 25 documented extinctions in the last 5 years, and 31 in the last 6; of all plant and animal species.

ginckgo
January 5, 2010 5:52 pm

Regarding people’s misconceptions about past mass extinctions: Firstly, the are ALL caused by environmental changes, and most of these changes were caused by climate change, and most of these changes were caused by changes in atmospheric GHG levels.
Furthermore, it really doesn’t matter that new species eventually replaced extinct ones in their niches. This can take millions of years to happen. After the Permian/Triassic there was a 10 million year gap of extremely low diversity (and not a single coral reef). How many human generations is that?

Reply to  ginckgo
January 5, 2010 6:17 pm

ginckgo.
You’ll find even Wikipedia doesn’t even agree with that statement.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event#Causes

DirkH
January 5, 2010 6:07 pm

“ginckgo (17:52:46) :
[…]
and most of these changes were caused by changes in atmospheric GHG levels.”
No they weren’t.

January 5, 2010 6:19 pm

ginckgo (17:52:46) :

Regarding people’s misconceptions about past mass extinctions: Firstly, they are ALL caused by environmental changes, and most of these changes were caused by climate change, and most of these changes were caused by changes in atmospheric GHG levels.

I guess that’s possible, if you expand the definition of environmental changes and climate changes to include asteroids and nearby supernova explosions – two likely causes of past mass extinctions. But a definition like that would cover just about anything.
You’re saying that ALL mass extinctions were caused by environmental changes? And that environmental changes were caused by climate change, rather than by a nearby supernova, or an asteroid impact? And that climate changes were caused by changes in greenhouse gases?
That’s quite a series of events. This is interesting. Tell us more.

Chuck Bradley
January 5, 2010 6:53 pm

When I first saw the number of species as a function of area equation,
I suspected it was manufactured to help prevent any development,
but I was certain it would be used for that purpose.

Patrick Davis
January 5, 2010 7:17 pm

“ginckgo (17:52:46) :
Regarding people’s misconceptions about past mass extinctions: Firstly, the are ALL caused by environmental changes, and most of these changes were caused by climate change, and most of these changes were caused by changes in atmospheric GHG levels.”
Wrong! One example would be the Moa on New Zealand. They didn’t go extinct due to GHGs, they went extinct because when “Maori” arrived they couldn’t believe their luck to find a land that had 12 feet tall chooks running about that were too easy to kill. They had many feasts, until there were none (And not a single SUV in sight).

Pat Moffitt
January 5, 2010 8:41 pm

Ginckgo
It is incorrect to compare any existing current day scenario to the Permian extinction which saw well over 90% of marine life exterminated and over 75% of terrestrial species. (Again these are by the fossil record which can’t “see” what we now call a species)
The causes of the Permian extinction are still contested with two competing theories- the formation of the the continent Pangea and the Siberian traps.
As with most of the great extinctions it was probably a combination of factors as there were many “dead clades walking” prior to the end of Permian. The Siberian traps spewed lava and pyroclastic flows of some 3 million cubic kilometers- basically a Europe size area over a mile deep (compare that with 12 Million for the largest volcanic event of the past few hundred years). This is the equivalent to burying Europe over a mile deep in molten material.
These traps importantly were explosive in nature and are though to have ejected massive amounts of ash and sulfur aerosols high into the atmosphere. The gases released by the Siberian traps were on an absolutely different scale than anything we see today.
The Permian extinction seems to coincide with a rapid reduction in sea level and it is thought the ash and aerosols caused massive glaciation which reduced sea levels. There also was anoxia seen in the oceans which could have been the result of oxidation of the trap released hydrogen sulfide . The H2S may have also reached toxic levels and the acid rain must have been horrific.The oceans were also being reformed with the creation of the super continent of Pangea.
The Permian – now that was a real extinction event!

Pat Moffitt
January 5, 2010 8:45 pm

The comparison to the lava released by the Siberian traps of 3 million cubic kilometers is correct but the largest flow of the past few centuries (from Iceland) should be 12 cubic kilometers not 12 million

January 6, 2010 12:42 am

Les Johnson (17:01:29) :
This was 2008, and now gone. Can data go extinct?
Sure. How many pages have vanished from HadCRU’s site just since November?

Chris Wright
January 6, 2010 2:21 am

ginckgo (17:52:46) :
“Regarding people’s misconceptions about past mass extinctions: Firstly, the are ALL caused by environmental changes, and most of these changes were caused by climate change, and most of these changes were caused by changes in atmospheric GHG levels.”
So you’re saying that most extinctions were caused by changes in GHG levels – presumably CO2.
I’d like to know what is your evidence for this. When the oceans get warmer they release more CO2, as demonstrated by the ice cores going back around half a million years. Therefore, when the world gets warmer, for whatever reason, there will generally be more atmospheric CO2. It then follows that a higher CO2 level during a warm period is no proof that the warmth was caused by the CO2. As far as I’m aware the ice cores show no evidence whatsoever of the climate being driven by CO2. In fact they show the exact opposite: the CO2 was driven by climate change.
To prove that a warming event was caused by an increase in CO2 you’d probably have to prove that the CO2 increase happened first and then was followed by a corresponding temperature increase. If you can produce any such evidence I’d be very interested to look at it.
Chris

January 6, 2010 3:14 am

@ John K. Sutherland
“‘Wilson’s claim that 27,000 extinctions per year have been occurring since at least 1980 means that there should be 26 bird extinctions and 13 mammal extinctions per year, a total of 39 bird and mammal extinctions per year.’
You can’t have 27,000 per year and then state 26…. and 13…. per year since 1980. I suspect that there will be many such errors like this to catch and clean up. More careful editing is advised, and it would be easier in a much shortened paper.”
If the paper was “much shortened” maybe then you could sustain sufficient concentration to read it closely enough to understand what it is saying and not issue asinine rebukes from on high based only on your own striking lack of comprehension. I’ll pass on to you a word of advice from S. T. Coleridge which is peculiarly apposite:
“Unless you understand a writer’s ignorance presume yourself ignorant of his understanding.”
This is particularly the case when the writer in question is Willis Eschenbach who is old-fashioned enough to be both a scholar and a gentleman.

Geoff Sherrington
January 6, 2010 4:07 am

Willis,
I have not read all of the above so please snip if repetitive.
Australia is often stated as having the worst record of modern extinctions of all countries. When you look at the list of 23 birds presumed extinct since European settlement in 1788, 6 are from Norfolk Island (1,400 km out to sea, east of NSW), 7 are from Lord Howe Is (ditto, 570 km), 2 are from Macquarie Island (2,000 km SE of Victoria) and one from Kangaroo island (only 13 km from South Australia). That’s 16 out of 23 from places that are mainly Australian from accidents of historical discovery by mariners and from annexation.
Discount biological connectivity or the acts of bad mainlanders for the majority of bird extinctions. It’s similar with mammals.
This guy was lost in the desert, Almost dead, he dragged up to the top of a sandhill and saw a road with a sign pointing his way saying “Mercy, 5 miles”. He made it, to the cafe, and aked for a drink. “We only sell Koala tea”, the waitress lisped. “Yes, Yes,” the man cried. Out came this mug of liquid with little bits of koala floating around in it, furry and with skin. Thirsty as he was, he was queasy. “Can you take the chunks out please miss?”.
With a look of superiority he was told “The koala tea of Mercy is not strained”.

Geoff Sherrington
January 6, 2010 4:22 am

nofreewind (14:47:31) :
Re Audubon, the hero.
Have you ever read his works, where he writes refreshingly in the vein “Had a good day of shooting in the morning, about a dozen birds, and had them mostly wired and mounted by evening”. Then got his missus to do a lot of the painting that gave him fame.
As we say, a hungry ornithologist will eat the last dodo.

January 6, 2010 4:36 am

Geoff S,
I love bad puns, and that one @04:07:18 was one of the very worst I’ve ever read. And your Audubon story reminds me of the [true] account of the guy who went looking for an American bison after everyone thought they’d gone extinct. He finally found a couple of them — and promptly shot them [like the famous Viet Nam quote, “We had to destroy the village to save it.”]
But he had them mounted in a diorama that toured the States, and got people interested in bison again. A few more were found, bred, and the species is no longer in danger of extinction.

Pat Moffitt
January 6, 2010 7:35 am

Wilson’s work is disingenuous at best. We live in an age with the highest number of genera and species (perhaps for reasons of definition as much as anything else). The estimates for the current number of species is some 2 to 100 million so discussion of the “rate” of extinction is meaningless if we can’t even resolve this value.
One cannot compare current extinction rates to those of the fossil record – we are comparing apples and oranges with respect to identification. The fossil record is incomplete and does not preserve well insects and other invertebrates- a large part of Wilson’s species of concern. The fossil record cannot identify a species with the same level of precision as a living organism- there is simply not as much available information. Consider many previously classified dinosaur species are now thought not to be unique species but simply juveniles and adult forms of the same species. This is why paleontologists look at the extinction of genera and families over time not species. We should compare the lost of genus and family extinction to the fossil record-if we did we would not see “geological extinction” taking place.
One should also be careful with the IUCN list. There is a tendency to list species as endangered using a population analysis at one extreme of its geographic range or another. A species health should be investigated at its population center- not at its fringes- which will always expand and contract. Salmon are a classic example shifting with the changes in the PDO. Wilson’s work if its purpose was to instill fear and panic has served its purpose but not that of science.
This is not to imply there are no problems- but we cannot solve a problem we are not allowed to understand.

Ryan Stephenson
January 6, 2010 8:36 am

Hi Willis,
OT, but going back to your Darwin analysis, I took a look at some UK data recently, and got some interesting results.
Birmingham UK weather station data was recently released by the UK Met Office. This shows a 1Celsius rise in temperature between 1950 and 2000 if you look at the annual means. But I looked at the monthly means and found that December showed no warming but July and August showed warming greater than 3Celsius over the same period.
What?
But then I realised that the weather station is Birmingham ELMDON. That’s the home of Birmingham International airport. So I thought “Could high passenger numbers in the summer months be the cause of the warming?”. Well here are the approximate figures, passenger numbers vs. temp gradient over the period 1950 to 2000:-
Jan “560,000” 2
Feb “600,000” 2.6
March “730,000” 3.4
April “700,000” 0.8
May “877,000” 0.4
June “900,000” 0.4
July “1,000,000” 2.8
August “1,000,000” 3
Sept “960,000” 1
October “844,000” 0.4
Nov “600,000” 0.5
Dec “500,000” 0
You’ll notice that the months with the highest warming trend correspond to the highest passenger numbers – obviously relevant in 2000 but not so relevant in 1950 I imagine. December has the lowest passenger figures and shows no warming trend over the 50 year period. Not a perfect corelation, certainly, but not too bad.
Conclusion I came to was that the only clear warming trend over the period 1950 to 2000 was due to increasing passenger numbers at nearby Birmingham airport during the summer months over that period.
Perhaps you could take a closer look at your Australian airport sites showing warming and see if they correlate to increasing passenger numbers over the period of interest, both by year and by month. Naturally your busiest months won’t be the same as for us in the Northern Hemisphere of course.

Harry Eagar