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

249 thoughts on “Where Are The Corpses?”

‘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…

2. Jim Arndt says:

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

3. dearieme says:

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

4. David Carpenter says:

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

5. Calvin Ball says:

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.

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

7. Doug in Seattle says:

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.

8. Henry chance says:

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.

9. 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.

10. wolfwalker says:

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.

11. Mooloo says:

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).

12. Louis Hissink says:

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?

13. Jim Masterson says:

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

14. 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?

15. Ed Murphy says:

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.

16. P Walker says:

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

17. 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!

18. Peter says:

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?

19. chris y says:

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.

20. AndrewWH says:

Yangtze river dolphin?

21. John W. says:

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?

22. Another Brit says:

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.”

23. John W. says:

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^)

24. tty says:

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.

25. DirkH says:

“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.

26. Josualdo says:

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.”

27. Stacey says:

“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.

28. Cory says:

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?

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.

30. KDK says:

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.

31. 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.

32. crosspatch says:

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.

33. edward says:

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.
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.”

34. Willis Eschenbach says:

Calvin Ball (14:26:51) : edit

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.

Calvin (and Dearieme above), thanks, fixed.

35. LARRY says:

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.

36. Willis Eschenbach says:

John K. Sutherland (14:37:53)
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.

See the numbers of bird species and mammal species as a percentage of total species …

37. greg2213 says:

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.

38. wws says:

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.

39. tty says:

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.

40. Layne Blanchard says:

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

41. Rob R says:

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

42. Jonathan says:

@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.

43. Steven Kopits says:

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.

44. David Alan says:

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.

45. tty says:

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.

46. tty says:

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.

47. Ray says:

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.

48. Jeff B. says:

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?

49. James W says:

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.

50. ghostwhowalksnz says:

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.).

51. tty says:

Didn’t the Desert bandicoot and the Central Hare Wallaby go extinct after 1956?

52. 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.

53. JR says:

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

54. Willis Eschenbach says:

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.

Well, first lets see if this is in fact “ill-informed nonsense” …

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.

Well, I find:

Estimates for the decrease in global forested area during the last 300 years range from 8 to 13 million km2, corresponding with 15 to 25 % of the original extent in 1700.

SOURCE.
There’s also an interesting Google Earth overlay here.
Then there’s this quote:

Using this approach, Matthews (1983:474-487) estimated that as of the early 1980s, humans had reduced global forest cover by about 16%. Updating this study with more recent deforestation data available from FAO brings the total loss of original forest cover to roughtly 20 percent. Historical forest loss could be much higher, however. A 1997 study by WRI, which used a higher resolution map of potential forest than the Matthews study, estimates that original forest cover has been reduced by nearly 50 percent (Briant et al. 1997:1)

And of course we have recent data on deforestation, which shows that the tropics are still losing forest.
And are you claiming that there has been no forest loss in China or India? Because if so, you’ll need a stack of citations …
And of course we have Professor Wilson’s estimate of a 1% per year forest loss just since 1992.
But even if none of this were true, even it were just as you say that “forest cover has fluctuated widely over the last 500 years”, this should still have led to a number of extinctions as the forest were cut down, regardless of whether they came back a hundred years later or not.

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.

I make no such claim for a complete catalog. I have based my numbers on what we know, not what we don’t know. If you think my numbers are wrong, show us where.

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.

Doesn’t change my conclusions in the slightest. Didn’t I point that out? We’re not looking for two missing extinctions. We’re looking for hundreds. And in fact, the large numbers of bird watchers which you correctly point to means that the odds of us missing a bird extinction is quite small …

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.

Doesn’t matter to the species-area relationship. It makes no exception for one class of animals over another. And the numbers that I used in the species area relationship are those given by Wilson.
Here’s the thing. The species-area relationship says that if you cut the forest area to a quarter of its size, species will go extinct.
You, on the other hand, say “Populations of forest animals are … difficult to completely eradicate.” Well, yeah, that’s what I said, but not what Wilson said. He said that”“Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995)” . But both you and I agree that life is very difficult to 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.

I have given my reasons not to accept Professor Wilson’s analysis. If there are problems with my logic or math or data, you need to show us where. That’s science.
w.

55. latitude says:

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

56. Willis Eschenbach says:

KDK (15:09:37)

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.

Well, I was kinda with you up to the last statement there …
The main cause of extinction is predation of one species on another, including human predation. That’s how we drove the passenger pigeon to extinction. However, humans are far from the worst offender in this regard. That award probably goes to dogs and cats and other introduced species.
So unless you want to execute our pets as “manipulators” …

57. Willis Eschenbach says:

Gerard Harbison (15:12:23)

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 (15:13:30)

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.

C’mon, guys, please read first and discuss second … let me repeat my closing paragraph here:

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.

58. Anton Eagle says:

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

59. Has sanity gone extinct?

60. Peter Dunford says:

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.

61. John A says:

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.

62. Willis Eschenbach says:

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.

The toads (along with other amphibians) are dying from the chytrid fungus. In an ironic twist, it appears that the reason that the fungus is so widespread is that it was spread on the hands and utensils of the very scientists going from place to place to study why the toads were going extinct … and it has even been introduced to places far from its origin, viz:

Deadly Chytrid fungus introduced into Mallorca from captive breeding
Captive breeding introduced infectious disease to Mallorcan amphibians
September 2008. The deadly Chytrid fungus that is killing frog and toad populations all over the world was inadvertently introduced into Mallorca by a captive breeding programme that was reintroducing a rare species of toad into the wild, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.
The study, by researchers from Imperial College London, reveals that captive Mallorcan midwife toads released into the wild in 1991 were infected with the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Measures to screen the health of the toads did not pick up the fungus, because at the time it was not known to science.

So as usual, all that has happened is people trying to blame “global warming” for something they don’t understand, rather than considering much more reasonable explanations. The planet has been warmer than now during this interglacial, and the last interglacial was warmer than this one … but dang, somehow the golden frogs survived that. The frog claim doesn’t even pass the smell test.

63. royfomr says:

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?

64. DirkH says:

“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.

65. Willis Eschenbach says:

tty (15:01:41)

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

You would say so, but the Red List disagrees. The first bird on your list that is not on my list is the Bogota Sunangel. The Red List says:

Heliangelus zusii is known from a single trade-skin purchased in 1909 in Bogotá, and speculated to have been collected on the East Andes or possibly the Central Andes of Colombia, within a few hundred kilometres of the capital. However, some “Bogotá” specimens came from as far away as Ecuador1. Since no other specimen is known, it is assumed to be (or have been) a species of restricted range. However, the validity of this taxon is sometimes questioned.

We don’t even know if this is a species or not, there is one specimen collected a full century ago, we only have the skin, we don’t know where the specimen was even collected, and yet you claim that you know why it went extinct?
I don’t think so.
However, my point remains. Even if you were to come up with four extinct birds, we’re still missing hundreds and hundreds of putative extinctions …

66. 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.

67. @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.

68. 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!

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.

70. DirkH says:

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

71. wolfwalker says:

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.

72. pyromancer76 says:

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.”

73. Dave vs Hal says:

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.

74. John S says:

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?

75. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

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

77. DirkH says:

“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?

78. R. Craigen says:

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?

79. 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.

80. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

81. 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.

82. Hank Hancock says:

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.

83. John Blake says:

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.

84. 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).

85. Anticlimactic says:

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’.

86. J.Hansford says:

tty (15:49:22) :
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.

87. Ray says:

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

88. Tom T says:

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.

89. DesertYote says:

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!

90. Richard Wakefield says:

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.

91. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

92. Christopher Byrne says:

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.

93. DesertYote says:

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

94. LB says:

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?

95. Richard Wakefield says:

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).

96. P Wilson says:

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.

97. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

98. Willis Eschenbach says:

wolfwalker (16:57:11)

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.

You come in, and make uncited and unsubstantiated claims. When I ask for some kind of citations or support for your views, you say you can’t be bothered … OK, fine. If you find errors in my work, let us know. But merely claiming that my work is “ill-informed nonsense”, and then walking away when asked for evidence, hardly redounds to your credit. I leave it to others to judge which is more believable.
Also, if you want to get some traction, comparing those who disagree with you with “creationists” doesn’t work. It is a shabby attempt at guilt by association.
Finally, I am not asking you to search for months for “counter-evidence”. I’m merely asking for the evidence that, presumably, you have built your claims upon. If that evidence is not in your hand, why are you making the claims?

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 have never said that “scientists are all idiots”, or that they are all “stupid” or “malevolent”. That’s your fantasy. You note that I quote your words that I am objecting to above. That’s to avoid your mistake, of erecting a straw man of things I have never said and then fighting against that straw man. If I have said something you disbelieve, quote my exact words so that we can see exactly what you think is incorrect.
Nor is it an either/or situation as you claim, where either all scientists are idiots, or all scientists are wise. That’s a known logical fallacy, called the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle. 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.

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.

100. 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

101. Willis Eschenbach says:

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?

Many top predator fish species are under very serious threat. Bluefin tuna is definitely one of them. Curiously, I was discussing fish and sustainable harvest yesterday on another WUWT thread, so let me copy those comments here …

I know this is not the subject of the thread, but please allow me a small digression to discuss this. As someone who spent a good chunk of his life as a commercial fisherman (US West Coast and the Bering Sea, doing salmon trolling and gill netting, albacore bait-boat fishing off California, lampara netting off of Monterrey’s Cannery Row, and herring gill netting and seining), I would say you are partially correct.
Sustainable yield is the issue, and for some fish species this is not too hard to achieve. For example, there is a long-standing and still vibrant commercial fishery for roe herring in both San Franciso Bay and Togiak, Alaska. I have fished both, and I can assure you that they are both very closely watched and professionally managed. The same is true of the salmon gill-net fishery based out of Bristol Bay in Alaska. In the early part of the season when the salmon weren’t around in numbers, we would not be allowed to fish at all. When they show up, Fish and Game biologists count how many salmon are going up the river (the escapement). When a certain number of fish had gone up the rivers, we would be allowed six hours to fish … and that might be it for a week or two. Only after the escapement reached the total number the biologists figured was enough to keep the run healthy (plus some) were we set free to fish, and even then only Monday through Friday. The runs there are strong to this day.
Other species are much more problematic for a variety of reasons. The main one is that the migratory fish like tuna don’t know about national boundaries, or they may be found outside of the boundaries in the open ocean. This makes it very difficult to manage them, as there will be a number of countries involved … and we all know how well countries manage shared resources.
Other fish may be slow growing, so they are inherently vulnerable. Others may be hard to count, so we are operating blind. And salmon and other anadromous fish, because they live in the ocean but can only spawn in the rivers, are very vulnerable to the degradation of their inshore habitat.
Finally, the ocean is not like the land, in that the oceanic predator/prey numbers tend to cycle wildly. A wolf has half a dozen pups, a deer has one or two fauns. This means that the total numbers of either one can’t increase much in a few years. In the ocean, both predators and prey often lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. If conditions are favorable for one or the other, the next few years will see a huge shift in the population of that species. This large population variation makes it very hard to determine the effect that human fishing is having on the fish stock.
So while you are generally correct that some species are overfished, it is not because fish biologists are not aware of the problem or are not working at doing the right thing. It is often because of the inherent difficulty of managing fish stocks for a host of reasons. We’re getting better at it … but there is still a long way to go.
One problem that would not be too hard to solve is that we generally have a size limit on catching fish, where fishermen (and fisherwomen, the entry of women into the fleet was a huge and beneficial change that occurred in my youth) have to throw back the small fish. This is backwards, as there are generally lots of immature fish, while there are many fewer of the larger sexually mature fish. So we’re taking the wrong fish out of the sea, we’re killing the fish who will spawn the next generation.
There is some motion on this front, such as the “slot limit” on the Kenai River in Alaska where I was a sport fishing guide in 2005. The slot limit prevents fishermen from taking fish which are big, but not trophy sized. You can keep fish smaller or larger than the “slot”, but not those big but not trophy fish. So we’re getting there. Slowly.
But I digress … we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

The only good news in all of that (other than the fact that we are working on the problem and making some gains) is that it is possible for oceanic populations to recover swiftly. They lay lots and lots of eggs, so that their numbers can increase rapidly. However, this is no guarantee that they will increase rapidly. What is needed is regulation and enforcement, and for fish like bluefin tuna, both are difficult to achieve. A friend of mine caught a single bluefin tuna that sold for $15,000 … with money like that at stake, enforcement becomes very difficult. w. 102. r says: 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. 103. Ray says: 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? 104. r says: 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! 105. r says: The coral reefs are dying because of sun screen used by tourists. 106. LB says: 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. 107. LB says: 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. 108. vigilantfish says: 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. 109. Patrick Davis says: “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. 110. Steve Fitzpatrick says: 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. 111. Holmes says: 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. 112. Just The Facts says: 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. 113. Pat Moffitt says: 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 114. DirkH says: “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 115. J.Peden says: 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. 116. vigilantfish says: 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. 117. Pat Moffitt says: 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. 118. Pete of Perth says: With regards to numbers, Dilbert nails it: 119. 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”. 120. J.Peden says: Thank God and Willis for empiricism. Neither get paid for it. 121. J.Peden says: 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? 122. Green Dragon says: 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? 123. Willis Eschenbach says: 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. I don’t want to get into a full-blown course in population dynamics, so you’ll just have to trust me. … Well, since my article is all about the “Theory of Island Biogeography” and why it is wrong, and why extinction is due mostly to predation and not habitat change, I’m not clear what is “off the mark”. As for the “you’ll just have to trust me”, thanks, but I’ll pass. I’ve been bitten badly by that, and have given it up entirely. You may well be 100% right, but “trust me” and science are incompatible. You make a number of claims, for example about the extent of forest now versus 500 years ago and the pre-Columbian population of the US. I have provided citations for my claim that there is less forest now than hundreds of years ago. So if you want me to believe that there is more forest now, more than trust is required — you’ll have to support that claim with some evidence. Let me take those as examples. You say that the pre-Columbian population of the Americas was fifty million. But that is only one among a host of estimates of the population, and the numbers are all over the map. See here for a discussion of the estimates, they range from 8 million to 145 million … do you see why “trust me” doesn’t work? For the other example, you claim that fire was used extensively by the Asian immigrants (aka “Native Americans”) as a means to clear land. And that is likely true, people have done that for millennia. However, you provide no comparison between that area and the area cleared by the number of fires caused by lightning, which is a very large number, and which continue to clear land … so again, while you may be right, I find it difficult to believe that you could show that you are right in any scientific manner. Proving whether a forest 500 years ago was burnt by lightning or by aboriginal arson seems like it would be difficult … Look, Mike, I’m not saying you are wrong, you may be right. But you can’t just make claims and expect them to be believed. 124. 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. 125. Clive says: 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. 126. 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. 127. Willis Eschenbach says: 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 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! “… disease called humankind …”? If humans are a disease, are you volunteering for the cure? 128. Green Dragon says: 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. 129. crosspatch says: 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. 130. David Ball says: Wolfwalker, you ever been near any wolves? I mean other than captive? 131. 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. 132. Pat Moffitt says: 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 133. Willis Eschenbach says: vigilantfish (20:54:28), you highlight an important point: … 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. This is often overlooked in the “let’s spend billions to reduce fossil fuel use” discussions. I was in Costa Rica talking to a guy and I asked him what he did for a living. “Corto leña”, he said, “I cut firewood.” I asked him where. He said he cut it in the nearby National Park … sensing my obvious discomfort at his answer, he added “A mi no me gusta tampoco, pero tengo que alimentar a mis hijos”, that is to say, “I don’t like it either, but I have to feed my kids.” Not much I could say to that. I touched on this peripherally above when I mentioned that the main threat to the animals in Africa is not habitat reduction or climate change, but the “bushmeat” trade. That trade occurs because the people are poor and hungry. So to me, mindlessly pushing the idea that we should radically cut the availability of energy for development in poor countries, in order to possibly maybe make a temperature difference of a half degree or a degree in fifty years, is a crime. Because paradoxically, to protect the environment you first have to encourage economic development. Poor countries can’t afford environmentalism. And economic development requires inexpensive energy. I know this is heresy, but I’m interested in results, not theory. For example, in the Solomon Islands, where I work, something like 70% of the energy comes from biomass. While this would likely be applauded by some “deep green” folks, the reality is actually quite ugly. Cooking over wood fires shortens peoples lives, hits the womens’ health much harder than the mens’, creates smog, is destructive to the forest, pollutes the air with black carbon and particulates, takes a lot of work, and leads to trachoma. Not my idea of a party … 134. J.Hansford says: 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. 135. Richard deSousa says: Another nonsense product of the stupid Drake Equation. 136. 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. 137. 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. 138. Willis Eschenbach says: J.Hansford (23:01:30) 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. J.Hansford, while I have great respect for the commercial fishermen and women of the world because of my many years doing that most dangerous job myself, I fear I don’t agree with your claims. 1. Some fish stocks are fine. Some are definitely not fine. The stock of sardines in Monterrey Bay, which used to support a huge fishery, is effectively zero. The cod stocks on the Great Banks are extremely low. There was no commercial salmon fishery in California last year because there were so few fish. Numbers of bluefin tuna are abysmal. As an ex commercial fisherman, I couldn’t disagree more with the “fish stocks are fine” claim. It is an incorrect simplification of a complex situation. Some are fine, some are terrible. 2. Log books do show that some fishermen are better than others. However, that’s not all they show, you miss the point. The log books are used to establish the catch per unit effort (CPUE). The value of the CPUE is not important. What is important is the direction that the CPUE is moving. If the average CPUE of the fleet over ten years is 3.1 tonnes of fish caught per hour of fishing time, and then over the next ten years it slowly drops to 1.1 tonnes per hour, it indicates that the stocks are dropping. I disagree strongly with your claim that logbook analysis is “just guessing” or that it “isn’t even science”. In many cases, it is the best science we have. 3. While it is common for commercial fishermen to abuse the “damn biologists”, and I have done my share of it myself, whether or not biologists can “find fish if their lives depended on it” is meaningless. It is not their job to find fish, it is your and my job to find fish. Their job is to give us the best information and advice on the state of the fish stocks and their long term sustainable yield. They can’t do our job, but then, we can’t do their job either … so what? Their job is to do their best to see that our grandkids have an opportunity be commercial fishermen and fisherwomen, to give them the chance to find fish that you and I have enjoyed. And while I may disagree with their methods at times, and I’ve sat many times on a boat in the Bering Sea and roundly cussed them out repeatedly for not giving us longer openings to catch fish, I support their doing the best job they can on behalf of my unborn grandchildren. Yes, their methods are not the best, but they are the best we have, and it beats flying blind. And yes, they make mistakes, and call closures when you and I can see the fish jumping all around the boat, but who doesn’t make mistakes? I prefer that we are doing our scientific best, mistakes and all, to just guessing how many fish are out there. My best to you, stay safe on the ocean, w. 139. Willis Eschenbach says: E.M.Smith (23:38:20) : edit 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. Chiefio, purely by chance I was reading an article yesterday on the ethics and practicality of cloning the Dodo bird, so your question is timely. It is an interesting question, because whether or not we can do it right now, we assuredly will be able to do so in the near future … but should we? (For those not aware of his work, E.M. Smith is “Chiefio”, check out his excellent blog here.) 140. J.Peden says: 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 141. Mr. Alex says: “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 142. J.Peden says: 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. 143. Willis Eschenbach says: Mike D. (22:44:50), thank you for the references. However, you miss my point. While you provide one reference for 50 million people in pre-Columbian Americas, as I pointed out, the estimates range from 8 to 145 million. You are assuming certainty where no such certainty exists. Looking at your references, I decided to see how they estimated lightning-set versus human-set fires. You say that these fires were set “By deliberate intent of the long-time human residents” to modify the environment. The reference, on the other hand, says that they were accidental fires. The entire assumption of your reference is that the Asian immigrants never put out their campfires. It says “In fact, no evidence exists that native people ever purposefully extinguished their heating or cooking fires. Most likely, they simply walked away and left their campfires burning.” I find this claim very doubtful. The authors claim that no hunter-gatherers that they know of anywhere on the planet put out their fires. Do you believe that? If for no other reason, getting firewood is a pain in the ass. So when you don’t need a fire, you put it out to save fuel. In addition, while many tribes were nomadic (particularly on the plains), many were not. They lived in the same place year after year. Most tribes lived a good part of the year in one place, and traveled elsewhere at specific times to get specific foods. The authors assume that those immigrant Asians in North and South America were too dumb to keep from burning their own home area to the ground several times every year … very, very doubtful. Finally, I don’t know if you have ever been up close to a grass fire or a forest fire, but it is very, very frightening. The assumption that people would never put out their fires, that they would just leave campfires burning after they have been up close to such a fire, flies in the face of common sense. “Once burned, twice shy” is an old saying for a good reason. But the authors do make that assumption, viz: So, to begin with a simple and conservative assumption that there was only 1 escaped campfire/yr per adult aboriginal inhabitant, … One wildfire per year per adult is a “conservative assumption”??? So if we have an immigrant Asian village of a hundred adults, which was not uncommon in some tribes, we could expect one forest fire to rage through the village every third day? And if there were 12 adults, they would start a wildfire in their front yard once a month? … sorry, but that’s just not reasonable. Look, MikeD, I like the site you have pointed me to. And I agree with what I can see of its philosophy. But if the lightning vs. arson paper is an example, I am less than impressed with the science there. One escaped campfire per adult per year, fifty million people, maybe 40% of them adults, twenty million escaped campfires per year? That’s exactly the kind of wild assumptions unsupported by common sense that has led to Wilson’s claim of 27,000 extinctions per year … I prefer my science to have more meat on the bones than that. That reference is an excellent example of what someone mentioned above, the “Drake equation”. For a good discussion of the Drake equation, see Michael Crichton’s excellent speech, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”. My best to you, keep fighting the good fight, w. 144. 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. 145. 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. 146. Gail Combs says: 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. 147. Lucy Skywalker (01:34:24) : I should add “and open to the most stringent online peer-review system developed”. 148. David Schofield says: Google seem to have added a “creationist” advert to the end of the “corpses” article. 149. David Schofield says: Google seems to have added a “creationist” advert to the end of the “corpses” article. 150. 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… 151. Gail Combs says: 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 152. 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. 153. Tony Hansen says: 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). 154. 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. 155. 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!” 156. Louis Hissink says: 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. 157. Allan M says: 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. 158. ian middleton says: 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. 159. 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. 160. 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… 161. 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 162. 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/ 163. 40 Shades of Green says: Great article. I really enjoyed it. 40 Shades 164. Chris Schoneveld says: Willis Eschenbach (19:54:25) : “A friend of mine caught a single bluefin tuna that sold for$15,000”

165. Gail Combs says:

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
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.

166. Bud Moon says:

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.

167. 40 Shades of Green says:

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.

168. Chris Wright says:

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

169. 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!

170. Demesure says:

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 !) :
– “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. ”

171. Josualdo says:

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.

172. 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.

173. Sharon says:

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

174. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

175. vigilantfish says:

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?

176. Willis Eschenbach says:

Mr. Alex (00:33:47) : edit

“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

Again I say, please read before posting. If you think I haven’t discussed the quagga, use the “Find” function on your browser. Finally, I gave the resource that I used (CREO for mammals, Red List for birds). I did not use Wikipedia, and I would suggest that you don’t either …

177. Craig Loehle says:

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

178. Barelysane says:

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.

179. Willis Eschenbach says:

Lucy Skywalker (01:34:24) : edit

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.

Thank you for your kind comments, Lucy. I am an amateur scientist, a species which has fallen on hard times lately but is hard to drive to extinction, despite the attempts of Phil Jones and others to reduce our habitat.
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.

180. kidd says:

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.

181. Steve Keohane says:

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?

182. Tim Clark says:

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.

183. JP Miller says:

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.

184. nofate says:

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!

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.

185. nofate says:

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 "

186. Claude Harvey says:

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

187. Gail Combs says:

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.

188. George E. Smith says:

“”” 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.

189. Willis Eschenbach says:

Richard Telford (06:20:05), you raise some interesting issues.

If a species becomes extinct in a forest and no one is around to watch it, does it count?

Regarding birds and mammals, there are very few unwatched forests around these days. Birds particularly are very visible.

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.

It is difficult to determine a species is extinct, but it is surely possible, or we would never have declared a species extinct. Nor is the claim supported by the lesser categories than extinct (e.g. critically endangered). There are not lots of birds and mammals moving from the less endangered to the more endangered categories. Finally, in part that’s why I looked at birds and mammals, because it is much easier to declare a bird or mammal extinct than an insect or an annelid.

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.

Yes, it is hard to determine that a species is extinct. However, it has always been hard, and many more species are known to have gone extinct in the past than more recently. Take another look at Figure 2.

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.

First, it is not true that as a result of the “shape of the species area curve, most species are safe until most of the forest has gone”. I have used the actual species area curve used by Wilson, and it predicts that lots of species should have gone extinct already. Wilson says the species area curve shows 27,000 extinctions per year, which is the exact opposite of your claim.
Next, you say “We are moving into a period where habitat loss will be the main driver of extinction.” But that’s not Wilson’s claim, nor is that what the species-area relationship says. Both say we are well into such a period of extinction from habitat loss, they claim we’re already deep into the “sixth wave” of extinctions … but where are the corpses?
So all that you have done is repeat Wilson’s claim but put the giant eco-catastrophe in the future rather than the present. But you have given us no evidence to support that postponement. Instead you simply make the claim that extinctions are just around the corner.
As I said above, I make no claim about future extinctions, I analyzed the record of the past rather than attempting prognostication of the future.
But this being a scientific site, if you want to make such forecasts, you’ll need something more than just your word and your obviously sincere belief. Because to date, despite your claim, local and regional extinctions have not been the “foretellers of global extinctions”. There’s lots of local and regional extinctions, and there have been for hundreds of years, but there have been very few global extinctions.
Thanks for the questions and thoughts,
w.

190. 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.

191. Gail Combs says:

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.
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!

192. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

193. Corey says:

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.

194. Jack Simmons says:

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?

195. Willis Eschenbach says:

M. Simon (10:32:55)

Europe and North America showed net increases in forest area over the reporting period.
http://www.portofentry.com/site/root/resources/industry_news/454

Thanks for the citation, M. Simon. Wilson’s claims and calculations were regarding the tropical forests. Regarding those, your citation says:

Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are currently the two regions with the highest losses. Africa, which accounts for about 16 percent of the total global forest area, lost over 9 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2005. Latin America and the Caribbean, with over 47 percent of the world’s forests saw an increase in the annual net loss between 2000 and 2005, from 0.46 percent to 0.51 percent.

196. Willis Eschenbach says:

M. Simon (10:43:25)

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.

You should comment on this at the WUWT thread on the subject here.
Thanks,
w.

197. Richard Wakefield says:

“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.

198. Harry Eagar says:

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

199. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

200. Willis Eschenbach says:

Pat Moffitt (11:46:25)

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 couldn’t agree more. There has been some movement in this direction by COSIS, but then they didn’t live up to their promise, they ignored on-line comments.
I do find the online give and take to be the nearest to real science that we see today. It allows anyone and everyone to question my work, not just a couple of carefully picked people who may just want to see my work not published.
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.

201. Willis Eschenbach says:

Harry Eagar (13:23:13)

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

Thanks, Harry, but not unless they’ve moved on land. I limited my analysis to species that live on land, because I was looking for Wilson’s extinctions due to habitat reduction.

202. Willis Eschenbach says:

Pat Moffitt (13:29:28) : edit

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.

Again, while this is interesting, please take it to the relevant WUWT thread here.
Thanks,
w.

203. George E. Smith says:

“”” 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.

204. Richard G. says:

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.

205. Willis Eschenbach says:

Claude Harvey (08:59:00)

I Googled the name “Willis Eschenbach” 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

Thanks for the support, Claude. You are right, I’m very popular in certain circles, particularly the ones where they think that epithets and aspersions on my honesty and ancestry are a wonderful substitute for logic and evidence …

206. 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<)

207. Les Johnson says:

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

208. Les Johnson says:

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).

209. Les Johnson says:

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.

210. ginckgo says:

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?

211. DirkH says:

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

212. Smokey says:

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.

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.

214. Patrick Davis says:

“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).

215. Pat Moffitt says:

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!

216. Pat Moffitt says:

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

217. 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?

218. Chris Wright says:

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

219. @ 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.

220. Geoff Sherrington says:

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”.

221. Geoff Sherrington says:

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.

222. Smokey says:

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.

223. Pat Moffitt says:

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.

224. Ryan Stephenson says:

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.

225. ‘As we say, a hungry ornithologist will eat the last dodo.’
I live on Maui, where the po`ouli (a honeycreeper) most likely died out four years ago. Of the past 9 known individuals, 2 were taken for vouchers.
So, you’re not far wrong.
Capitalists will do the same thing. The northern elephant seal (Baja California) was thought to be extinct for about a decade, when hunters found 8 live ones. They shot 7.

226. mathman says:

Too many subjects touched on in this thread; Anthony needs to find a mechanism for setting up sub-threads.
1. Species. I think that I am correct that the definition of species is not universal. See the “Spotted Owl” as an example. Definitions of inter-breeding and habitat seem to differ among specialists.
2. Categorization. Our ability to catalog and distinguish living things is limited, both by number of persons doing the catalogs and by our inefficiency of finding a common language for identification. How many insect species are there, again? Or just beetles. Let us count beetles.
3. Urbanization. I have lost the reference. Last summer coyotes were seen stalking the police in Rockville, MD. And our suburban area is overrun with deer. Some species seem to be very adaptible as to their habitat.
4. Diversity in a given species. Members of passer domesticus must be banded to distinguish them. Members of mimus polyglottis can easily be distinguished by calls alone. What is the language for the flexibility in a particular genotype?
5. Habitat competition. See the striped mussel for a story of how one organism can engage in ferocious niche competition. See the devastating stories of mice, rabbits, and camels in Australia for evidence of how the predator/prey relation gets skewed with human intervention.
6. Exploration. Many areas of the earth are hazardous for catalogers. Tropical islands (think New Guinea). Closely-controlled nations (think North Korea). Equatorial Africa (think natural hazards). The deep seas (in the very-long-ago seabeds were devoid of life in my textbooks).
7. Conclusion: our ignorance is still very great. The power law is just a guess, and does not appear to correspond to available records.

227. maksimovich says:

mathman (09:57:20) :
Too many subjects touched on in this thread; Anthony needs to find a mechanism for setting up sub-threads.
The complexity of biological phenomena allows for no shortcuts it is irreducible and has been known for a long time eg
Kolmogorov, A. N., I.G. Petrovskii, and N.S. Piskunov
A Study of the Equations of Diffusion Accompanied by an Increase in the Amount of Matter, and Its Application to a Biological Problem (1937)
The ” problem” has evolved to be known as Kolmogorov complexity,which is why we see such “divergence” when describing the “problem”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolmogorov_complexity

228. ginckgo says:

Smokey (18:18:52)
“environment” includes everything, so this part of my statement is maybe cheeky, but a basic fact. “climate change” must ultimately be caused by something, so supernovas (stripping away the ozone) and asteroid impact (throw out a lot of stuff into the atmo) are causes for CC, while they themselves probably aren’t the direct cause of global mass extinctions.
One example is the end Ordovician extinction event, that coincides with a rapid, short (<2 Myr) and severe Ice Age. Recent research indicates that the Late Ordovician was dominated by a combination of massive volcanic outgassing and a balancing sequestration caused by the weathering of the uplifting Appalachians, maintaining a relatively stable greenhouse climate. In the Hirnantian the volcanoes effectively stopped while the weathering continued, causing a major drawdown in atmospheric CO2.

229. Richard Telford says:

@willis
“there are very few unwatched forests around these days”
This is critical to your argument, but you have done nothing to substantiate this claim. In contrast, I would argue that, especially in the tropics, there are many unwatched or little watched forests. I can substantiate this with Uganda as an example.
In the early-mid 1990s there was a major project to survey the biodiversity of about 60 Ugandan forest reserves, concentrating on the larger (>5000ha) forests. The project also collated all available biodiversity data on these forests. Considering just the bird data:
– Half of the forests had no previous data.
– For those forests that had previous data, only half the species previously recorded were rerecorded by the survey
– The species that were not rerecorded are on average rarer than the species that were rerecorded
-25% of the species previously recorded for these Ugandan forests were not found in any forest
– Since the mid-1990s, there has been no comprehensive resurvey of the forest avifauna.
Should you wish to audit these figures, I can make the database available.
I should find it difficult to construe this situation as well watched. It would be almost impossible to conclude that any species had become extinct in Uganda from these data. And Uganda has fairly high quality biodiversity data. The data from, for example, DR Congo, will be far far worse.

230. Willis Eschenbach says:

Richard Telford (05:09:26) : edit

@willis
“there are very few unwatched forests around these days”
This is critical to your argument, but you have done nothing to substantiate this claim. In contrast, I would argue that, especially in the tropics, there are many unwatched or little watched forests. I can substantiate this with Uganda as an example.
In the early-mid 1990s there was a major project to survey the biodiversity of about 60 Ugandan forest reserves, concentrating on the larger (>5000ha) forests. The project also collated all available biodiversity data on these forests. Considering just the bird data:
– Half of the forests had no previous data.
– For those forests that had previous data, only half the species previously recorded were rerecorded by the survey
– The species that were not rerecorded are on average rarer than the species that were rerecorded
-25% of the species previously recorded for these Ugandan forests were not found in any forest
– Since the mid-1990s, there has been no comprehensive resurvey of the forest avifauna. …

Richard, an interesting issue, thanks. A few points regarding your ideas.
1. Citing a forest which had a major re-survey, not a survey but a re-survey, done in 1990 hardly supports your claim that the forests are unwatched.
2. It’s not critical to my argument. Again I reiterate if we were to find one or four or even a dozen species that have in fact gone extinct, it would not invalidate what I am saying. The claim is made, over and over again, by Wilson and others, that we should be seeing a dozen or more species going extinct every year . We’re not missing a dozen. We’re missing a couple dozen per year, every year, for decade after decade. This is supposed to be a huge “sixth wave” of extinction. A few overlooked extinctions in Uganda or DR Congo will not rehabilitate that wildly inaccurate claim.
3. While there are poorly and infrequently watched forests in the tropics, there are also closely watched forests in the tropics. These closely watched forests have not seen the claimed extinctions either. It does not make sense that the extinctions would only be happening where we are not watching.
4. In general, the most closely watched forests are the ones that have seen the most habitat destruction. That’s because people are in there making farms and building roads and the like. The least closely watched forests are the ones where people have not changed the habitat. If there is a “sixth wave” from changing forest to field, it should have been seen in the changed forests in the very process of that change. It has not been observed there.
5. The species-area relationship is claimed to apply to temperate zones as well as the tropics. Temperate zone forests are much more closely watched than tropical forests … but we don’t find the predicted extinctions there either.
All the best,
w.

231. Rational Debate says:

Willis Eschenbach (07:52:06) : & Lucy Skywalker (01:34:24) : edit
-SNIP-
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.
::::::::::::::::::::
Willis, fascinating read, thanks for the article! Lucy, I gather you have a website of interest, would you post the link please if that’s correct?
For whatever its worth re amature v. pro scientists – my father is in his early 80’s and is an ABD PhD (all but dissertation). His academics were interrupted by his volunteering to go first to WWII then yet again, separately, to Korea. He and I have discussed apparent changes in the attitudes and professionalism of academic ‘scientists’ a number of times, and he points out a rather interesting aspect that may very well be at play.
He states that prior to Vietnam, the vast majority of people who went on to higher level degrees in science did so purely out of a love of science itself, the scientific method, and whatever discipline they chose – just as it was in his case. These people were/are ‘professional’ scientists, but they’re in it for the science, NOT the  (or at least not primarily!). In my father’s case, by the time he was able to finish his PhD, he found he was already in the position he wanted, doing the research/work he wanted, and at that time, it didn’t seem to him that finishing the degree would really matter (when you have delays and change universities for career/family/war, a huge amount has to be re-done to get that upper level degree each time, quite onerous, far more so than ‘simply’ getting a PhD in one fell swoop).
Once Vietnam came into play, however, there were large numbers of people who went on to higher level degrees not out of any love of science or desire to understand the scientific method and conduct research, but very much to avoid the draft, avoid the war, but still earn a living and not be in legal trouble as a ‘real’ draft dodger would have been. They quite often would never have wound up scientists at all if it weren’t for the war. Those people are now old enough to be both the majority or at least a large number of the existing academic scientists, but also in positions of power simply by dint of time.
Now I’ve no data to support this theory, but it intrigues me and it certainly would explain a lot, at least for those in the USA.

232. Rational Debate says:

Two articles that may be of interest on this topic. The first a lay article, but discusses how human bird feeders in Britian may be causing speciation/evolution:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/6718307/Britains-bird-tables-changing-the-path-of-evolution.html
The second more scientific and intriguing, and from a post right here on WUWT from 2008.
Surprise: Earths’ Biosphere is Booming, Satellite Data Suggests CO2 the Cause
8 06 2008
Eco Worriers: “CO2 is a pollutant!” Gaia: “Tell that to the biosphere.” Biosphere: “Yumm, burp!”
This animation depicts the 10-year average from 1997 to 2007 of SeaWiFS ocean chlorophyll concentration and land Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data on a rotating globe.
The SeaWiFS instrument aboard the Seastar satellite has been collecting ocean data since 1997. By monitoring the color of reflected light via satellite, scientists can determine how successfully plant life is photosynthesizing. A measurement of photosynthesis is essentially a measurement of successful growth, and growth means successful use of ambient carbon. This animation shows an average of 10 years worth of SeaWiFS data. Dark blue represents warmer areas where there tends to be a lack of nutrients, and greens and reds represent cooler nutrient-rich areas which support life. The nutrient-rich areas include coastal regions where cold water rises from the sea floor bringing nutrients along and areas at the mouths of rivers where the rivers have brought nutrients into the ocean from the land.
See an animation of the Earth;s Biosphere: 512×288 (30 fps) MPEG-1 10 MB. More here at NASA SVS
In praise of CO2
With less heat and less carbon dioxide, the planet could become less hospitable and less green
Lawrence Solomon
Financial Post, Don Mills, Ontario
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Planet Earth is on a roll! GPP is way up. NPP is way up. To the surprise of those who have been bearish on the planet, the data shows global production has been steadily climbing to record levels, ones not seen since these measurements began.-SNIP- continued online at link provided above