Always Trust Your Gut Extinct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CODA

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

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

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

The very finest of a lovely day to you all,

w.

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tgmccoy
January 25, 2013 10:31 am

As my scientific background was Biology- I agree. good points, Willis as usual…

January 25, 2013 10:36 am

I have written about this false claim many times. The most recent on my web site here;
http://drtimball.com/2012/david-suzuki-and-scientific-and-social-responsibility/

John West
January 25, 2013 10:39 am

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

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

January 25, 2013 10:42 am

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

mark fraser
January 25, 2013 10:43 am

But what about the snailbat?

Hwan
January 25, 2013 10:44 am

great stuff Willis!

Reply to  Hwan
January 25, 2013 11:09 am

Willis here is some real science and they now prove the believed theory was wrong . .
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=shrunken-proton-baffles-scientists&WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20130125

GoodBusiness
January 25, 2013 10:51 am

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

nvw
January 25, 2013 10:52 am

Willis,
Did the Science paper reference Loehle & Eschenbach?

Gareth Phillips
January 25, 2013 10:53 am

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

Rick K
January 25, 2013 10:54 am

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

george e. smith
January 25, 2013 10:57 am

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

nc
January 25, 2013 11:04 am

Willis, if you where ever on David Suzuki’s Christmas card list, you have now been scratched off.

analyticalsciencesblog
January 25, 2013 11:07 am

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

January 25, 2013 11:08 am

It all boils down to Liberals refusing to accept just how insignificant humanity really is in the big picture. They just have to matter, so project catastrophe
in our wake.

John West
January 25, 2013 11:14 am

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

Paul Marko
January 25, 2013 11:29 am

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

Curious George
January 25, 2013 11:31 am

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

g2-55527e4d0e6a7560016aa81dbd8b142e
January 25, 2013 11:31 am

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

albertalad
January 25, 2013 11:34 am

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

Rick
January 25, 2013 11:34 am

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

January 25, 2013 11:43 am

Not sure if you mentioned it, but in addition to the lack of a surge in extinctions, there is also a constant flow of new species discoveries!
Birds: “During the 20th century, ornithologists published a number of periodic reviews of newly described species. The purpose of each of these was to collect together in a single paper, for ease of reference, all new species’ descriptions published in the period of study, and to present an analysis of these, indicating which represent valid species, and which, for various reasons, do not.
The first such review was published in 1934, by the ornithologist Wilhelm Meise, covering the period 1920 to 1934. Meise presented his review to the Eighth International Ornithological Congress (IOC) in Oxford. The review listed 600 new species’ names described in that period. Meise was of the opinion that between 135 and 200 represented good species. At the ninth IOC in 1938, Meise presented a second paper, listing 23 new species described in the intervening period, plus a further 36 which had been described during 1920-1934 and not covered in the earlier paper. ”
New species discovered in New Guinea, alone, from 1998 to 2008:
“Among the new species discovered from 1998 to 2008 were 218 new kinds of plants (of which around 100 are orchids), 580 invertebrates, 134 amphibians, 2 birds, 71 fish (including an extremely rare 8-foot-long river shark), 43 reptiles and 12 mammals.”

JamesNV
January 25, 2013 11:44 am

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

D.B. Stealey
January 25, 2013 11:46 am

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

Peter Crawford
January 25, 2013 11:47 am

Willis, E.O. Wilson is s scientist like yourself. Has the penny dropped yet, or the second shoe ?
Scientists are no cleverer than anyone else they just think they are.
Meanwhile my Institute in North Wales is investigating the relationship between Professor Steve Jones’s work on the DNA of snails and Italian musical thought in the 17th century.
The results may be devastating.. Then again further research may be required.

Craig Moore
January 25, 2013 11:48 am

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

L Nettles
January 25, 2013 11:48 am

I am better off trusting Willis’s Gut

SadButMadLad
January 25, 2013 11:51 am

There’s not much on E O Wilson’s wiki page about the extinctions study. Just a few sentences at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._O._Wilson#Ecology
Considering how wrong Wilson has been proven to be, there should be a few more words about it.

January 25, 2013 12:00 pm

@John West: 10:39 am
Your point about Challenger and consensus is valid.
I think, however, the real lesson to be taken from Challenger are the facts that:
Challenger had been delayed 6 times prior to Jan 28 and NASA was becoming the butt of jokes.
On the morning of Jan 28, pad temperatures were 28 degs F. There was vocal dissent from Thiokol engineers
Consensus without opposition is one thing.
Consensus that doesn’t heed opposition is quite another.
Read: Telecon Meeting (Ethical Decisions – Morton Thiokol and the Challenger Disaster)
Author(s): Roger M. Boisjoly (former Thiokol engineer, “Seal Team”)
http://www.onlineethics.org/Topics/ProfPractice/PPEssays/thiokolshuttle/shuttle_telecon.aspx
The whole page is worth a read, but the plot thickens after “Figure 10.”

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

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
January 25, 2013 12:16 pm

Consensus is Opinion right or wrong in my humble opinion . . .

David L
January 25, 2013 12:01 pm

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

RHS
January 25, 2013 12:08 pm

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

Mikegeo
January 25, 2013 12:08 pm

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

RHS
January 25, 2013 12:09 pm

Doh, meant before Man harnessed fire.

January 25, 2013 12:15 pm

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

oldseadog
January 25, 2013 12:16 pm

Brilliant paper.
A lesson for us all, stick to our guns.

January 25, 2013 12:19 pm

Ever since your last post here about this topic; was it really three years already?
Anyway, I raise various plants including orchids. When reading the historical information about the great biologists who established the families and genera; one finds that “original” species identification required dessication, drawings, habitat description and often microscopic criteria to separate closely related species.
There are many species that have a species identification filing; but have not been found again. No, these are not extinction events. Instead they’re attributed to various issues including bad information, poorly kept or dried specimens, loose or perhaps overzealous desire of the biologist to be the first to identify a species…
Which is along way round to get to the point; there is NO definitive original basis for species identification.
Looking at the ‘big’ peaks in the extinction charts above; there is a huge peak when the famous biologists were busy identifying/verifying species, there is another peak in the mid 20th century just when many of the original species cards/filings were reviewed. Perhaps many of the ‘assumed’ extinctions are species that were not originally ‘found’ properly and may have never ‘been’.
Add to this, the issue that when unusual species are found; there is no truly exhaustive effort to find ALL populations and all locations where populations are found. Critters are declared ‘in danger’ because where they were originally found they are not currently found. Again, no truly exhaustive search. Take the case of the elusive ivory billed woodpecker; first it was thought extinct, then it was maybe, again extinct, now it is a definite maybe.
Most populations thought to be extinct are originally sparse to begin with and limited in distribution. If the species is rigidly dependent on narrow habitat requirements then it is always in danger of extinction and it doesn’t require man’s interference to cause it; though there are plenty of examples where man did not help. A prime example would be the dodo, as someone else mentioned, isolated island populations.

Kelly
January 25, 2013 12:23 pm

Mr. Eschenbach,
Unfortunately being proven correct is sometimes it’s only reward. Dire predictions of species extinction are based entirely on numerical sleight-of-hand. If I set the number of species (known and unknown) high enough I can make one extinction sound like a disaster.
I was reminded of a quote from P.J. O’Rourke who said, “A lay person might want to ask one or two questions. Are we talking rhinos and tigers or are we talking shower curtain mold and windshield bugs?” I would add “hypothetical shower curtain mold and undiscovered windshield bugs.”

Dave
January 25, 2013 12:30 pm

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

DCA
January 25, 2013 12:32 pm

Willis,
@ http://judithcurry.com/2013/01/25/open-thread-weekend-7/#more-10986
A fan of *MORE* discourse commented on your post.
It appears he doesn’t have the nerve to address you directly.

H.M.
January 25, 2013 12:33 pm

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

Pat Moffitt
January 25, 2013 12:38 pm

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

January 25, 2013 12:39 pm

Here is the long term answer to mass extinctions . . The fossil history backs the theory . .
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catastrophism

January 25, 2013 12:50 pm

Thanks for the article as usual, Willis. Willis, I hereby proclaim you to be the Anti-Czar of Science of the USA.
Underestimate the current mass authoritarian anticultural mass media-government-corporate movement at your own risk. If they can get this much mileage on a carbon scam, there are a hundreds of more ways that you and your wallet will be conformed.
Point is, modern people view themselves as openminded, a dangerous, feel-good delusion.
Bottom line of the current world movement I just mentioned is that you must assimilate. We need to admit that something went very wrong in Western Civilization, that it’s on a fast and ugly descent; science corruption, sickly society, mass mental illness, creeping authoritarian socialism, self-asorbed, lame art. All marked by a serious lack of creativity and innovation.
Am I off topic or talking about Willis and why no one listens?
I remember Frank Zappa saying how the old generations were much more likely to let innovative people try things, and that the hip, younger generations are really more closed-minded. Listen to the crap on the radio and see for yourself, then listen to older music like this: http://stevemichaelsvaultovinyl.com/listen/ , one hundred years of American pop hits; not to mention jazz and classical music. I suggest that we invert reality in this way, that being modern absolves us from our stupidity.

richard telford
January 25, 2013 12:54 pm

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

January 25, 2013 12:57 pm

The remarkable story of how the world’s largest insect wasn’t extinct as thought.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dryococelus_australis

Dr T G Watkins
January 25, 2013 12:57 pm

Entertaining and informative as ever. Glad you are a regular again.

Steve P
January 25, 2013 1:00 pm

Nice article, but I think you are incorrect about habitat destruction and/or environmental degradation, which I include as habitat destruction.
We know that birds like Falcons and Eagles in N. America were just about extirpated because of toxins in the environment, although there is disagreement, I believe, about precisely which toxin(s) were responsible; some say DDT, while others point to lead in gas.
Whatever it was that just about cleared (Bald) Eagles and (Peregrine) Falclns from the skies of N. America, it was not hunting.

u.k.(us)
January 25, 2013 1:02 pm

albertalad says:
January 25, 2013 at 11:34 am
“Not to mention most modern day tigers are in western zoos.”
==================
That may be, but some are still taking precautions 🙂
Per:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_attacks_in_the_Sundarbans
“The locals and government officials take certain precautions to prevent attacks. Local fishermen will say prayers and perform rituals to the forest goddess, Bonbibi, before setting out on expeditions. Invocations to the tiger god Dakshin Ray are also considered a necessity by the local populace for safe passage throughout the Sundarbans area. Fishermen and bushmen originally created masks made to look like faces to wear on the back of their heads because tigers always attack from behind. This worked for a short time, but the tigers quickly realized it was a hoax, and the attacks continued. Government officials wear stiff pads that rise up the back of the neck, similar to the pads of an American football player. This is to prevent the tigers from biting into the spine, which is their favored attack method.[3]”

Jim Clarke
January 25, 2013 1:12 pm

As for those who think that human population needs to be reduced by several billion…
When they start leading by example, I will take notice. I still won’t believe they are correct, but I will start to believe they were serious.

sl149q
January 25, 2013 1:15 pm

Its also reasonably obvious that after first contact the next biggest cause of species extinction is habitat destruction, typically from conversion of forests to agriculture or logging or both.
Which is the OTHER reason to support anything that reduces the need to convert habitat in the first place and convert some existing lands back.
This mandates against growing stuff to burn it in a vain attempt to reduce CO2. Don’t complain about GMO’s (or anything) that reduces crop yields.
Going long on gas and nuclear not only benefits our society by lowering power costs. But it will also reduce the rate of species extinction even farther as we can protect habitat batter and in many cases increase it.

January 25, 2013 1:25 pm

I believe we continue to see new species discovered, so there is also open to examination the issue of “net extinctions.” Yes?

January 25, 2013 1:25 pm

Gareth Phillips says:
January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am
“It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed…”
I know from personal observation that Sparrows and Starlings have not crashed, I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty in northern Ireland, which as you may know has a much milder climate than the mainland UK, my home and nearby buildings are regularly visited every year by scores of nesting pairs of Sparrows, in fact last year while doing some work in my attic I found a 3’X1′ nest, as it wasn’t causing any damage I decided not to destroy it and boxed it in and secured it from the rest of the attic after the birds left. When migration season comes around hundreds can be seen and they even fly in and around my kitchen when I leave the back door open.
It may be the case that birds have been migrating further west from the mainland UK due to the much colder winters lately. I’ve notice more than the usual amount of Robins, when I take my dog for a walk around the forest these Robins flock along the path and follow us until we leave.
We have had less hornets and wasp nests spotted over the past 3 summers as the colder seasons haven’t helped these nests develop fully, A neighbor of mine and his grandson accidentally stood on a wasp nest last summer and suffered only one sting to his leg, if the preceding winter and spring had been warmer it could have been fatal, but the nest they walked into had small underdeveloped wasps that covered the both of them but were unable to sting through their clothes which was lucky. If you read any so-called “expert reports” that bees and wasps are declining, It’s is due to colder seasons which the nests become less productive. The other phenomenon that happens in the countryside and forests during colder seasons is a rise of fungal related diseases, these diseases can effect Bees and wipe out many trees from an area if not brought under control, there are also types of mite and other parasites that thrive during colder and wetter conditions.
One other point, forests and certain species of insect need lots of sunlight and warmth to thrive in numbers, when the favorable conditions decline for the insects that certain species of migratory bird prefer as their source of food, become scarcer so the birds will simply follow their food, also as other insects thrive during colder conditions so to will the species of bird that prefers that insect as it’s source of food and so will change it migratory habits too.

Gene Selkov
January 25, 2013 1:26 pm

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

TimTheToolMan
January 25, 2013 1:31 pm

Willis writes “This kind of world-blindness astounds me. I’ve heard of living in an ivory tower, but if you were making the claim that it’s raining, wouldn’t you at least look out the ivory windows to see if water were actually falling from the sky?”
I couldn’t agree more, Willis. Nice, healthy level of scepticism there. Statistical analysis alone has only so much value. If you want to get to the *actual* truth you need to actually get off your ar$e and gather real data.
I wish people treated our temperature records in the same way by getting out there to weather stations, looking around and talking to the people who attended them over time to actually gather real meta-data instead of producing synthetic tests and manipulating the data in such a way as to be “probably better”. Especially weather stations where anomalous temperature jumps are detected.
Major Kudos to Anthony for doing more of this.

January 25, 2013 1:32 pm

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

Pat Moffitt
January 25, 2013 1:34 pm

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

Duster
January 25, 2013 1:41 pm

“Expert” is a legal and media term. “Experts” are used in legal duels where the jury decides whose expertise is longest. Brought on as an “expert witness” the first thing you are told is to cool the qualifying observations that “weaken” your position. That is, an “expert” is forbidden to exercise scientific caution or scepticism in any statement made to the court.
When interacting with the media, an “expert” is generally selected by researcher’s on the basis of the inexpert assumptions regarding a topic that are the preferred view point of the reporter or publisher. Constraints are not so overt. The interviewer simply wants the expert to “keep it simple [for the audience].” The result is often that an hour’s interview is reduced to a five-minute sound bite where the reporter has edited your words until what ever your purported to have said is in agreement with the reporter’s expectations about the topic and – not infrequently – about the “expert.”

January 25, 2013 2:00 pm

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

January 25, 2013 2:03 pm

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

Eyal Porat
January 25, 2013 2:05 pm

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

apachewhoknows
January 25, 2013 2:14 pm

Would that CO2 get rid of all the chiggers here in West Texas grass in the spring time.
Head Line News: “Chiggers gone extinct”

Richard deSousa
January 25, 2013 2:25 pm

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

Matt Skaggs
January 25, 2013 2:34 pm

Wilson mentioned (all) species, Willis looked at birds and mammals. Readers should notice how many times this frame deceptively shifts back and forth in the article above.
“Having written so early and so extensively to try to debunk the claims of massive extinction rates…”
Your paper was half a page of arithmetic based upon a couple tables you found on the internet, plus two pages of dubious “interpretation.” What else you got?
And there are a couple of reasons that you find no support for your “predation causes extinction” claim. One, you have no evidence to support that for the millions of extinctions that have occurred thoughtout history, and two, some folks who really did put lots of time into extinction theory proved that it could not be true. Now if you want to say that recent first contact extinctions were largely caused by overpredation of defenseless species, that much more narrow claim would be quite right and you would find little disagreement. But that still does not make habitat loss less right. The fact is that habitat loss is somewhat tautological with respect to introduced predators in the sense that introducing the brown tree snake to Guam obliterated the snake-free habitat for the species that had no defense against tree snake predation. It is hard to be so right when you have to make a tautology wrong!

January 25, 2013 2:54 pm

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

george e. smith
January 25, 2013 3:02 pm

Man is the only species that gives a rip about the extinction of other species. Every other species seeks to maximise its success in whatever ecological niche it is in.
Does man’s insistence on the survival of other species, that Mother Gaia would let make a graceful exit, drive the entire system in the direction of non-survival ?

Steve P
January 25, 2013 3:07 pm

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

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

Yes, some think that leaded gas was the real culprit in eggshell thinning.
Good point about ranchers and others shooting eagles. That misguided and despicable practice indeed may have played a role in the reduction of eagle populations, but these I think would be mostly Golden, rather than Bald Eagles, which are seldom found in dry country. Beyond that, I doubt hunting or shooting would have played any significant role in the decline of the Peregrine Falcon.
Once upon a time, before there were golf courses, and bean fields, subdivisions, freeways, and shopping malls, all of that land was home to many native flora and fauna. Perhaps such development has not resulted in complete extinction of these species, but certainly populations of native flora and fauna must have been drastically reduced where such development has occurred.
Would reduction in population numbers be a possible precursor to extinction?
The Native American bison or buffalo, is a good example of a creature that was almost extirpated by methodical slaughter, but which lumbers on today in greatly reduced numbers. If the same number of buffalo existed now, as before the attempt to gun them all down, where would they live today?

Pathway
January 25, 2013 3:20 pm

Without extinction there would be no room for evolution.

Streetcred
January 25, 2013 3:30 pm

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

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

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

Joe Prins
January 25, 2013 3:31 pm

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

David Schofield
January 25, 2013 3:35 pm

Apparently all the British Isles mackerel as moved north to Iceland because of climate change and warmer seas particularly around the south west coast of Britain.
“Part of the problem would seem to be climate change, with mackerel seeking colder waters.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/22/britain-iceland-faroe-islands-mackerel-war
However look at the official temps for a local south of England area near me, now apparently ‘devoid’ of mackerel;
3rd graph down shows that it has actually gotten cooler in the last 6 years!
http://www.cefas.defra.gov.uk/our-science/observing-and-modelling/monitoring-programmes/sea-temperature-and-salinity-trends/presentation-of-results/station-24-weymouth.aspx
So the mackerel either are responding to a 50 year trend or planning for the future. And another thing if they don’t like the average 13°C around here increasing to 13.5°C why do they all need to migrate to Iceland’s 8°C? wouldn’t they all just shift north by .5°C?

pat
January 25, 2013 3:44 pm

willis – it’s us sceptics who are not looking out “the window” & participating in the environment!!! LOL.
24 Jan: Vancouver Sun: Misty Harris: Exposure to conspiracy theories has dramatic consequences
Researchers from the University of Kent in the U.K. found that simply reading a conspiracy theory increased people’s feelings of powerlessness, which ultimately reduced their desire to politically engage. And this effect occurred even when the information wasn’t directly related to government.
Exposure to pro-conspiracy material on climate change, for example, not only made people less motivated to reduce their carbon footprint, it also negatively affected their interest in voting.
“When you’re exposed to a conspiracy – say, that the government is involved in secret plots – it can make you feel as though your actions won’t make a difference,” said doctoral student Daniel Jolley, the study’s co-author. “(It) appears to trigger a conspiratorial mindset.”…
Those who read the conspiratorial material were more likely to report feelings of climate powerlessness, uncertainty and disillusionment, which in turn reduced their desire to act in environmentally friendly ways…
But they also note that conspiracy theories potentially lead to societal disengagement – and, as their research shows, a waning interest in political and environmental participation.
“Conspiracy theories aren’t necessarily just harmless fun,” said Jolley. “They may have potentially serious social consequences.”…
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/national/Exposure+conspiracy+theories+dramatic+consequences/7866992/story.html
——————————————————————————–

January 25, 2013 4:04 pm

I thought, apparently erroneously, that Stephen Jay Gould had disputed E. O. Wilson’s assertion about species extinction, but I could not locate any statement to that effect in the literature in my library.
One interesting fact came out in that cursory search, though, was that twenty years ago, “British Museum entomologist Nigel E. Stork reports that the total number of formally named species of animals and plants (excluding the diverse kingdoms of fungi, bacteria, and other unicellular creatures) now stands at approximately 1.82 million…” of which more than half are insects [“A Special Fondness for Beetles” S. J. Gould].
Also, some entomologists estimated there to be close to 100 million species of animals and plants based on the known proportion of beetles to everything else. Reminds me of certain “facts” and “theories” sounded by various climate scientists.

En Passant
January 25, 2013 4:11 pm

A couple of years ago our local school hosted a presentation by a couple of senior school students on “Global Warming and the New Wave of Extinctions”. As it was a cold, wet night with nothing on TV I went along. Amazingly, about 100 people attended.
They rolled out every cliche and bad statistic ever heard and correlated cause and effect between totally unrelated facts, statistics, etc. The audience was appreciative and wept uncontrollably when told that 10,000 species had been ‘extincted’ by the 1 degree Centigrade increase already experienced. “We are doomed!” they wailed
During question time I asked:
1. Can you name two species declared extinct in the past 2-years? and
2. How many new species are being created each year, as opposed to being found?
One gentleman near the front cried ‘Shame!” and people started stamping their feet. The Moderator, a city councillor said “I think we can ignore that. Next?”
Yes, we are doomed, but not for the reasons they think … but because a new Dark Age of Unreason and Ignorance is upon us

DesertYote
January 25, 2013 4:23 pm

richard telford
January 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm
but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.
###
BS. If it takes centuries for a species to expire, its not habitat reduction that did it.

January 25, 2013 4:35 pm

I wonder if E.O.Wilson would consider windmills to be ‘habitat destruction’?

DesertYote
January 25, 2013 4:36 pm

Because we can not define what a species is, we can’t define what extinction is, especially when Marxism gets involved.
1. So, did Canis lepophagus go extinct, or did it just change?
2. C. lupus ( a resent arrival) did not become extinct in the CONUS, despite protestations to the contrary, by Marxist propagandists trying to redefine language. The Grey Wolf was EXTIRPATED. (The extirpation of the c.lupus was not easy, but took considerable effort and resources to accomplish.)

Evan Jones
Editor
January 25, 2013 4:37 pm

Not so fast, Willis . . .
Despite having hundreds of sonar contacts over the years, the trail has since gone cold and Rines believes that Nessie may be dead, a victim of global warming.
http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/veteran-loch-ness-monster-hunter-968694

richard telford
January 25, 2013 4:53 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
January 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm
richard telford says:
January 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm
Habitat loss is a major factor in extinction dynamics, but two problems make this difficult to detect with simplistic analyses.
I note that you don’t supply a scrap of evidence for that claim, that habitat loss is a “major factor”. Not one corpse to back up your claims. On the continents we don’t have a record of one single species that was a forest obligate that has gone extinct, from habitat loss or any other reason. The reasonable conclusion is that it’s hard to drive animals extinct.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Just because you are blissfully unaware of the enormous literature on species extinction after habitat loss does not mean that habitat loss does not drive species to extinction. I know that you will argue that these are local extinctions rather than global extinctions but that is an irrelevant distinction. All extinctions are local, some just happen to be extinctions of the last remaining population.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
First is data quality – it is very difficult to prove a species is extinct. Just ask if the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct – a large bird in an area with many ornithologists – imagine how much worse the data is in West Africa.
So what? Yes, it’s difficult, but the Red List and CREO both declare animals extinct without any problems.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I would have have hoped that this would be obvious: if it is difficult to tell if species are extinct, it is difficult to count how many are extinct. Sure some species are (almost) definitely extinct, and are listed as such in the redlist. But there are many species where the data is just not good enough to tell. Some are listed as data deficient, others are just not shown – look for example at Lepidoptera in sub-Saharan Africa. The redlist only lists 311 species, a small fraction of the total diversity.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The second problem is extinction debt. When an area of habitat is lost, we expect that the number of species that will survive in the remaining habitat will decline, but the species will not become extinct immediately, but gradually, perhaps over decades or centuries depending on the size of the remaining habitat.
Since we have been cutting down forests for hundreds of years, destroying forest habitat over huge acreages, and since Wilson made his prediction a quarter of a century ago, we have had more than enough time to demonstrate that your claim is doesn’t pencil out.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There is a considerable literature on extinction debt: experimental deforestation in Amazonia, microcosm experiments, observational evidence, and theoretical modelling. All this evidence shows that extinction debt is a real phenomenon at the patch scale. If it operates at the patch scale, it is impossible for it not to operate at the global scale.
The time scale of extinction debt in large fragments in centuries-long. Large-scale long-term clearance of the most species rich habitats, tropical rainforests, are a relatively recent phenomenon. Therefore much of the extinction debt has still to be paid.
I presume that since you are so sure that extinction debt does not affect your analysis that you have read at least some of this literature, and applied your gut instinct to determine how the well established concept of extinction debt is flawed. If you cannot be bothered to read any of the literature, at least read the Wikipedia page.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here’s the problem, Richard. I went over the detailed numbers for this very idea in my post “Where Are The Corpses”, devoting about six paragraphs to showing why your claim falls over in the slightest breeze.
Now I know that “Post Normal Science” is all the rage, but even so, if you are going to discuss my work, don’t you think you should at least read it first?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Alas, I did read it. I believe I commented how weak the analysis was. You have done nothing to improve it and you appear not to care that you may be wrong.

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 4:57 pm

Based on the the Red List, more than 16,000 species of the world’s creatures are threatened with extinction, right now. The Red List is maintained by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) and it’s one of the gloomiest books in the world to most biologists, and, what with AGW, it is set to get even gloomier.
Willis, perhaps you should listen to our E.O.Wilson…the ant man, an evolutionist by trade…he knows allot more about extinction than you give him credit for. And certainly allot more than you.

Pamela Gray
January 25, 2013 5:05 pm

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

Pamela Gray
January 25, 2013 5:07 pm

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

January 25, 2013 5:07 pm

OK, trafamadore. Name ten animal species that have officially become extinct in the past decade.
…Name five, then.
…Two?

Bob
January 25, 2013 5:18 pm

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

January 25, 2013 5:20 pm

You too, Telford. Name those “extinct” species.

Jurgen
January 25, 2013 5:23 pm

Thanks for the article Willis. This for me is the second big scare thrown out of the window by WUWT, next to the climate scare. It is not I was overly concerned about species being lost, as this is happening all the time throughout natural history. And for sure in the future will happen to homo sapiens. But still I was misled by not knowing the real data.
Why is it people like to go for these scares, like mass extinction and climate catastrophe and what have you? I am speculating now, but I think in the end it is a way to evade our responsibilities.
I am not sure it is a deliberate ploy by politicians to cultivate these scares to camouflage the real problems they cannot deal with. These real problems of course are not in the realm of nature or mother earth but are purely social and political. Maybe it is on purpose with some politicians but I think it is a general tendency to evade our responsibilities we all have more or less, because it is no easy matter. Our failings in the social and political area are extremely painful and we rather not see them. If anything they are the direct result of our own actions and choices so we should be able to deal with them, right? But we hardly can, can we? So we rather avoid this painful fact and start looking elsewhere.
I am not advocating any political or ethical agenda here. Actually I am just stating that if there are real and serious issues to be solved, they lie overwhelmingly in the social and political arena, that is in our dealing with each other, and not in our dealing with nature.
So cultivating these big scares is a projection of our social and political failures onto the scenery of nature. We don’t want to see “enlightened man” to fail so we rather see nature fail. But the scare “nature goes wrong” actually deep down is a scare we go wrong ourselves. IMHO.
I guess it is a price we have to pay in our age of “lost certainties”. Kind of a panic reaction. A mass panic is a real phenomena, like a stampede, and it can wreak havoc. And we humans are social animals, aren’t we? So sometimes we also stampede and may act completely lunatic, like with this CO2 nonsense. But luckily also it is a temporary something. It will go over. My “history model” tells me.
OK I hope this makes some sense. It is speculative stuff I know, but then, my gut feeling tells me so 😉

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 5:26 pm

D.B. Stealey says: “OK, trafamadore. Name ten animal species that have officially become extinct in the past decade.”
These were documented in the last ten years as extinct, although who knows when the last of each species died. They are just from one genus of frogs:
Philautus dimbullae
Philautus eximius
Philautus extirpo
Philautus halyi
Philautus hypomelas
Philautus leucorhinus
Philautus maia
Philautus malcolmsmithi
Philautus nanus
Philautus nasutus
Philautus oxyrhynchus
Philautus pardus
Philautus rugatus
Philautus stellatus
So think about it, each of these species is gone forever. Forever. Like the dinosaurs. Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers….

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 5:32 pm

Bob says: “trafamadore, are you aware that 99.9999% of all species that ever existed on planet earth have gone extinct. ”
Yep. But tell me, Mr. Asteroid, what does that have to do with senselessly causing extinction?

January 25, 2013 5:32 pm

Ya know, trafamadore, just like Willis, I pay attention to what I write:
Name ten animal species…
Still waiting.

Craig Loehle
January 25, 2013 5:38 pm

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

voice in my head
January 25, 2013 5:44 pm

I rather being worried about the explosive amount of new species discovered last few years, and the relation with rainforest being cut away.
Any species not found yet is another forest still alive..

January 25, 2013 5:44 pm

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

January 25, 2013 5:46 pm

Another factor in extinctions not yet mentioned is competition from introduced species. An example is the N American grey squirrel rapidly displaced the native red squirrel across much of Britain.
Which leads me into an anecdote about how small an area of habitat a species needs to survive, at least in the short term.
When I was a teenager, I was hospitalized for an appendicitus. I was on the third floor of a U-shaped block and between the 2 wings of the U were 5 or 6 pinetrees. So I could see close up the squirrels running around in the trees. Surprisingly, they were red squirrels.
I spent my childhood exploring the woods in the area and they were full of grey squirrels, but I had never seen a red squirrel before. Yet a few had managed to survive on those 5 or 6 trees.

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 5:46 pm

D.B. Stealey says: “Ya know, trafamadore, just like Willis, I pay attention to what I write: Name ten animal species…Still waiting.”
Hum. So are you like one of the poor students I haf to teach? So a frog is not a plant or a bacteria. So you are left with only a few possibilities…can you name them? Impress me.

dp
January 25, 2013 5:54 pm

Swingin’ Richard – now there’s a keeper.
Great post, Willis, well punctuated.

Mark Bofill
January 25, 2013 5:59 pm

Trafamadore,
Your post is interesting to me. I’ve read Willis’s ‘Where Are The Corpses’ post. Can you explain specifically which part of his analysis you believe is incorrect? For example, has he made some sort of error in your view in categorizing ‘island/Australian extinctions’ vrs ‘continental’? Do you believe the numbers he researched came from a false source? Is his math wrong? Etc.
I’m curious because your post stating that Wilson knows a lot more about extinction than Willis appeared to be totally devoid of support. Do you actually have anything with which to support your contention?
Which brings us to the part I find interesting. When you posted this, surely you expected someone would ask you to justify your position, yet you posted without any such justification anyway. You must have had some reason. What was it?

Robert Austin
January 25, 2013 6:06 pm

trafamadore says:
January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm
It wasn’t habitat destruction that killed those frogs off (if indeed they are actually extinct), it was and is chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease (transmitted by biologists studying amphibians?). So trafamadore, what would be the background extinction rate were humans never introduced to Earth? Are you saying that amphibian extinction is mirrored in the mammal and avian kingdoms? As Willis said, the extinction claims are wildly improbable when subjected first to the smell test and then to some back of envelope calculations. Like the boy who cried wolf, if your Wilson types keep spewing patent nonsense, will we credit them if they inadvertently tell the truth?

TRBixler
January 25, 2013 6:08 pm

Ever read abut bird choppers? Killer Green!
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8807761/wind-farms-vs-wildlife/
Steve P says:
January 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm
Nice article, but I think you are incorrect about habitat destruction and/or environmental degradation, which I include as habitat destruction.
We know that birds like Falcons and Eagles in N. America were just about extirpated because of toxins in the environment, although there is disagreement, I believe, about precisely which toxin(s) were responsible; some say DDT, while others point to lead in gas.
Whatever it was that just about cleared (Bald) Eagles and (Peregrine) Falclns from the skies of N. America, it was not hunting.

DesertYote
January 25, 2013 6:09 pm

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm
###
I think the question was in regards to REAL species, not some fantasy names made up to inflate the number of endangered species in RedBook. Almost every single worker in anura is a nut-case. No one should trust the validity of any amphibian taxon created in the last 20 years.
I am sure that many readers of WUWT don’t have time to become experts in all of the various fields discussed here. The taxonomy of amphibians is probably pretty obscure to most. For the past 20 years or so the Marxist have been placing great emphasis on using frogs as a focus of propaganda, screeching about the imminent loss of gazzillions of species of them. Frogs are ideal. They are cute, and many people are attracted to them. They are also difficult to study, and often go unnoticed in the world, so by and large most people are truly ignorant about them. The last means that it is very easy to lie about their state. Along with this has been a push to describe every regional variant as a species specifically to make their plight seem dire and to create a means to steal private property. Maybe 5% of the recently described frogs are valid. It has been no accident that their have been all of those reports of froggy disasters trumpeted from the rooftops that have turned out to be completely wrong.

DesertYote
January 25, 2013 6:15 pm

trafamadore says:
January 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm
Based on the the Red List, more than 16,000 species
###
And guess what WHO CARES. If the influence of man did not exist, the contents of the Red List would not change. That document is laughably flawed. For one thing I would erase every single name that was added in 1996.
You probably should stop before you make even more of a fool of yourself then you have already.

John Game
January 25, 2013 6:19 pm

Willis contributes a lot to this site but there are a lot of over-siimplifications in this particular article. First, its a bit unfair to blame E. O. Wilson for the hyped claims made by Greenpeace and the like about extinction due to climate change. Most biologists would agree with Willis that the threats from alien introductions, especially of diseases such as avian pox and avian malaria, are more urgent problems at least for birds than is climate change. However, extinction is a real and ongoing problem, regardless of the cause. I agree that climate change has been over-hyped, but Island species extinctions are on-going in birds especially, e.g. two species have been lost in the the Hawaiian Islands alone since 1980 despite huge efforts to save them. Similarly, the California Condor would certainly have been lost if it were not for millions of dollars spent on a captive breeding program – there are many other examples of birds saved “just in time” and at great expense, eg the Lord How Island woodhen and the Rarotongan Flycatcher.
Nowhere does Willis mention plants or invertebrates or the vast majority of species that are neither birds nor mammals, although they are presumably implied when he mentions numbers like five million species for the planet. Most of the rest of his discussion concerns the way-less-than-one per cent that are birds or mammals. In Hawaii, about a hundred plants are thought to have become extinct in the last one hundred and fifty years. A few will doubtless get rediscovered, but probably not most of these. Much of this is due to habitat destruction, pigs, and the like although some may be due to bird pollinators becoming extinct. About half the native Hawaiian land birds have gone extinct since European contact. As for continents versus islands, an extinction is an extinction wherever it occurs
How does Willis know how many birds went extinct before lets say about 1800? The world and its fauna was scarcely known then, lets have some references to back up these counter-intuitively precise numbers.
Having said all that, Willis is right about climate change not being the primary concern, in my view. Indeed the warmists have damaged the cause of saving species both by focussing on the wrong threat and by damaging the credibility (by confusing people and by over-hyping things) of those who are concerned with preventing further species losses.
John Game
California

u.k.(us)
January 25, 2013 6:20 pm

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

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 6:22 pm

Willis Eschenbach says: “Wilson’s claims are a joke, trafamadore. They sounded great if you didn’t do the math, I guess, or if you weren’t suspicious like me.”
The math? How can you do the math? You don’t know, do you you? We don’t either, I admit, because we don’t know a species is gone until many years after the event has happened, but at least we try to estimate, and you don’t even think of it. Of course the IUCN list is part of the estimate, because those happen to be the species that end up on the extinction list, or havent you noticed that, prob’ly not, because they are “they are far from neutral.” Whatever, that’s your opinion but only that.
Have you considered that in your analysis you only look at mammal and birds. Less than 1% of the species? Prob’ly not. My frog list above, in one little list, outnumbers your entire list for any decade?

D.B. Stealey
January 25, 2013 6:24 pm

trafamadore climbs down:
“Hum. So are you like one of the poor students I haf to teach? So a frog is not a plant or a bacteria.”
Translation:
“I cannot name even two (2) animal species that have officially gone extinct in the past decade.” [I had challenged trafamadore to name two animal species. As Desert Coyote notes, one frog species can have multiple names.]
So with that strange comment, trafamadore climbs down. I will agree with him, though, about his “poor students.” Can you imagine the pseudo-scientific nonsense they have to upchuck in order to pass?

S. Meyer
January 25, 2013 6:28 pm

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

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 6:29 pm

DesertYote says:”I think the question was in regards to REAL species, not some fantasy names made up to inflate the number of endangered species in RedBook.”
You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species, and if you think that some species are “fantasy species” and some arent, then I have no problem will electing you to a fantasy species of subhumans.

January 25, 2013 6:36 pm

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

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

It is known only from the lost holotype. There have been no records since the species was described in 1853, and it is now believed to be extinct. Recent, extensive field surveys of the amphibian fauna of Sri Lanka, including at the type locality, have failed to rediscover this frog.
In other words — maybe it was — maybe it wasn’t — maybe it was something else…
So I dunno — it looks like the claims are not even dubious — they are speculation.
Just sayin’

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 6:37 pm

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

thingadonta
January 25, 2013 6:45 pm

I came across a problem with extinction rates when I learned of the concept of ‘locally extinct’. Biologists use this term routinely, and of course, it sometimes gets mixed up with real or broader patterns of extinctions when calculating rates.
If something is only ‘locally extinct’, then by definition it is NOT extinct. It can be reintroduced, it can simply have been displaced by e.g. a new town or city. Kanagaroos are locally extinct in Sydney, big deal, there are plenty of them in the outback. The east Australian current brings warm water fish down the east coast each year, which then due when the current fails or cools. They become ‘locally extinct’, only to return the next year.
Also, islands are not continents. This same argument is used ad infinitum regarding Easter Island and how that culture’s demise is a warning to us all. Yes, but isolated islands are not continents, they don’t trade, they dont benefit from exponentially increasing advantages with increasing land areas. The relationship between an island’s sensitivity and a continent’s is not linear.
And about Easter Island, don’t get me started-I have a theory that it was largely a corrupt and entrenched bureacracy that did it, i.e. people in power enforcing a rigid religious system, and not allowing the people to adapt and change when things became grim. In other words, it was not a environmental disaster spawned from an unregulated market cutting down all the trees, as often claimed, it was a an environmental disaster spawned from a rigid religious-environmental bureaucracy-the same kind of rigid religious-environmental bureaucracy that stifles scientifitic debate at times now.

January 25, 2013 6:48 pm

Here is one “pending extinction” on the Red List… so other than canine distemper — what is leading to the (possible) extinction or what is the nature of the threat?
Could it be Conservation? Could it be Global Warming? Could it Be “The Green Wave”???
http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/maritanoon/2012/08/17/third_largest_power_company_in_the_world_is_the_third_largest_recipient_of_risky_loans/page/full/
Environment
Remember that the common denominator of these “special seven” projects was a “fast-tracked DOI approval?” The policy has come back to bite the projects.
According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT), “The $1-billion Genesis Solar Energy Project has been expedited by state and federal regulatory agencies that are eager to demonstrate that the nation can build solar plants quickly to ease dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. Instead, the project is providing a cautionary example of how the rush to harness solar power in the desert can go wrong—possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s solar initiative.”
The problem is the “expedited” process may endanger the whole project. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform’s March 20, 2012 report says, “To expedite site approval, NextEra opted for a less thorough process.” As a result, the site “encroached on the habitat of the endangered kit foxes.” NextEra had to move the foxes prior to grading the site. “Ultimately, seven foxes died from NextEra’s removal process.”
Additionally, there have been concerns of desert tortoises and a “prehistoric human settlement.”
But warring factions within the environmental movement also plague the NextEra Genesis Solar project.

You really do have to look at habitat loss — and why it is occurring. — he’s right.
Here in Canada the same company rips out bald eagle nests to make way for wind turbines? Just google “Ontario Wind Resistance” there are lots of stories… and lots of protests and the Government? Issuing “secret permits”…
So it seems species do go missing — that’s conservation for you…

Bob
January 25, 2013 6:53 pm

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

January 25, 2013 6:54 pm

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

D.B. Stealey
January 25, 2013 6:58 pm

trafamadore says:
“You should really take a biology class…”
trafamadore still can’t name 2 animal species that went extinct in the past decade. So he changes the subject. That’s a FAIL, no?

Editor
January 25, 2013 6:59 pm

Chapter 31 of Julian Simon’s great book The Ultimate Resource 2 (second edition of The Ultimate Resource) debunks alarmist claims of a species holocaust. That came out in 1996. Simon’s work inspired Bjorn Lomborg to write The Skeptical Environmentalist (1998), which has its own debunking of species holocaust in chapter 23.
The ultimate resource of course is people. Simon’s book should on everybody’s short list of the most important books ever written. It is the definitive answer to Malthus and the neo-Malthusians, cogent and encyclopedic at the same time, and written throughout with a deep understanding of the productive energies that are unleashed by liberty.

January 25, 2013 6:59 pm

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

OssQss
January 25, 2013 7:06 pm

Another excellent post Willis!
Thank you
But, Paula Abdul?

January 25, 2013 7:07 pm

Steve P: Bald eagles definitely live in dry areas. Where I live in a dry region of the west. The only water available is from one river running through the city. There are reservoirs 30 miles from my residence. Golden eagles are the more dominate species here but there are definitely bald eagles around. They will eat fish when they can get it and rabbits, etc. when they can’t get fish. They also eat gut piles from deer, etc, during hunting season. (You are correct that goldens were probably most often shot, though the feeling that any eagle is a bad thing is not uncommon.)
trafamadore: Are you saying it’s a sad thing your children will never see a TRex?
I want to clarify my comment on habitat reduction. I do not believe that habitat reduction causes extinction, but rather can reduce numbers until the animal/bird/reptile adapts. Antelope in Wyoming have learned to jump fences much like deer do, as more and more land is fenced. Thirty years ago, this was very rare. Now, it’s not the most frequent method used (they slide under the fence if they can) but they are learning. For a while, in hard winters, the fences did reduce antelope numbers. Again, I don’t believe a reduction in numbers leads to extinction necessarily.
The fact that species are gone forever is part of the way life on earth works. While there is no need to wipe out species indiscriminately, some species will always be lost. Those with very limited diets, very limited ranges, etc. would go extinct with or without man getting involved. Things change and they always will.

Alex Heyworth
January 25, 2013 7:07 pm

Keep the faith, don’t lose your perseverance.

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 7:08 pm

from Traf: Our children will never see them. Never. They might as well be the dinosaurs, except we know what color their skin was and that they didnt have feathers”….”
Bob says:”Who cares! It is the future creatures that matter.”
Right. In a million years. Or two. Not something our great great great great great great grandchildern will notice. They will only notice the void of species. So who cares.

S. Meyer
January 25, 2013 7:10 pm

@ trafamadore
In defense of trafamadore, with whom I rarely agree:
Google is your friend:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_mammals
Eastern cougar 2011
Japanese river otter 2012
Pyrenean Ibex 2000
Saudi Gazelle 2008?
Baiji 2006
I think it is foolish to downplay the seriousness of the threat of extinction.
And saying that, I am not being sentimental. Let headlice and scabies go extinct tomorrow!
However, if we restrict a species habitat, so that the population shrinks to just a few, chances are that that population will be in trouble sooner or later, just from not having enough genetic diversity.
The shrill sounds of alarmists should not keep us from doing some reasonable things to be good stewards of this world. One example would be to create corridors between protected areas, so that endangered populations don’t get too isolated on little patches.

Toto
January 25, 2013 7:11 pm

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

u.k.(us)
January 25, 2013 7:17 pm

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

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 7:22 pm

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

Editor
January 25, 2013 7:33 pm

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

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 7:35 pm

Willis Eschenbach says: “I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.”
Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.

JohnH
January 25, 2013 7:36 pm

@trafamadore
You say:
So think about it, each of these species is gone forever.
Ah, the maudlin weeping over lost species…that probably never existed.
I just checked the books on your list of Philautus sp. that are “gone forever”. None of the ones I tried to verify (i got bored after about 10) have been seen in decades. All of the species that I looked at were either described by a single physical specimen collected or a holotype described anywhere from 60 to 150 years ago. None of them have ever been studied to verify their existence or to learn about their range or habitat. Two of them have since been reclassified as probable samples of P. wynaadensis, which is not extinct.
Somehow, the great Global Amphibian Assessment managed to create and destroy these poor frogs in one fell swoop.
You should be embarrassed for citing this nonsense without at least wondering why Philautus was losing so many species and doing 5 minutes of research before claiming that they went extinct in the last decade.

NoFixedAddress
January 25, 2013 7:40 pm

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

D.B. Stealey
January 25, 2013 7:48 pm

trafamadore says:
“Goodbye.”
The end of his climbdown, I suppose.
One question I had, though, was because of trafamadore’s comment:
“You are a poor excuse for a living being. Any species is equal to the human species…”
So I am curious where trafamadore would draw the line, if spewcies are all equal. Banana slugs? anopheles mosquitos? leprosy bacterium? Or are only furry kittens and Polar bears the “equal” species? Just wondering…
Me, I’d have no regrets about making a few species completely extinct.

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 7:51 pm

JohnH says:”You say:So think about it, each of these species is gone forever. Ah, the maudlin weeping over lost species…that probably never existed. I just checked the books on your list of Philautus sp. that are “gone forever”. None of the ones I tried to verify (i got bored after about 10) have been seen in decades. All of the species that I looked at were either described by a single physical specimen collected or a holotype described anywhere from 60 to 150 years ago. None of them have ever been studied to verify their existence or to learn about their range or habitat. Two of them have since been reclassified as probable samples of P. wynaadensis, which is not extinct. Somehow, the great Global Amphibian Assessment managed to create and destroy these poor frogs in one fell swoop.”
two of 14? what ever. You don’t care. One species lost, big deal, no loss, right? You will die die some day, big deal, no loss.

January 25, 2013 7:55 pm

Hey WUWTers, did you know there’s a YouTube presentation of this? It’s pretty good and I can’t believe it only has 164 veiws:

LamontT
January 25, 2013 7:59 pm

Hmm so trafamadore claims a bunch of frogs that may or may not be different species are animals? Oh and those frogs appear to be like breeds of dogs. A breed of dog is not a species so I think there is something specious about your claims.
Oh and you definitely didn’t show 2 species of animal that went extinct in the last 2 years. You got nothing don’t you.

January 25, 2013 8:00 pm

@trafamadore,
What you may be entirely missing is just how important climate change has always been to speciation. Particularly hominid speciation……
“An examination of the fossil record indicates that the key junctures in hominin evolution reported nowadays at 2.6, 1.8 and 1 Ma coincide with 400 kyr eccentricity maxima, which suggests that periods with enhanced speciation and extinction events coincided with periods of maximum climate variability on high moisture levels.”
state Trauth, et al (2009) in Quaternary Science Reviews (28 (2009) 399–411).
The more poignant question might be what species will we be in the next interglacial, or the next one after that, when we are again at an eccentricity maxima……..?

January 25, 2013 8:02 pm

The Eastern Cougar… alive and well here in Ontario… One was wandering Horseshoe Valley near Barrie Ontario during our Vacation — first two seeks of September 2012…
A site devoted to the cougar here…
http://cougarrewilding.org/CougarNews/?cat=33
One of the stories — fer example…
Cougars return to Ontario, study says By Tom Spears, Postmedia News March 15, 2012 OTTAWA — A four-year Ontario study confirms what many rural residents felt sure about: cougars are again living wild in […]
Japanese River Otter…
The Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) (日本川獺 Nihon-kawauso[1]?) is an extinct variety of otter formerly widespread in Japan. Dating back to the 1880s, it was even seen in Tokyo. The population suddenly shrank in the 1930s, and the mammal nearly vanished. Since then, it has only been spotted several times, in 1964 in the Seto Inland Sea, and in the Uwa Sea in 1972 and 1973. The last official sighting of one was in the southern part of Kochi Prefecture in 1979, when it was photographed in the mouth of the Shinjo River in Susaki. It was subsequently classified as a “Critically Endangered” species on the Japanese Red List,[2] On 28 August 2012, the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct by the Ministry of the Environment.[3][4] On January 10, 2013, dozens of eyewitnesses reported seeing them in Aichi Prefecture.
Might be too soon for the Otter — they can have some of the otters that splash in the river out back of my house…
You can do the rest…

thunderloon
January 25, 2013 8:03 pm

analyticalsciencesblog says:
January 25, 2013 at 11:07 am
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
-Richard Feynman

Quite. The moment you believe you are expert, you are putting theory above proof and are immediately unscientific.
I’d like a T-shirt with “Intellectuals go with what sounds good, Engineers go with what works. Don’t think: test.” on the front and “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” on the back.

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

trafamadore responds to Willis:
“You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it.”
Willis? A fraud?? And to Desert Yote:
“You are a poor excuse for a living being.”
And he calls me “son”! Heh. I’ve forgotten more on this subject than trafamadore has ever learned. I’ve been retired for nine years now. “Grandpa” would be much more accurate.
See, trafamadore is simply incapable of answering any questions put to him. So his response is to denigrate folks who clearly know more than he does. Really, he’s just winging it here.
Note to trafamadore: when insults are your typical response to the scientific points raised by others, you have already lost the debate. You just don’t realize it yet. That comes with maturity.

Mark Bofill
January 25, 2013 8:17 pm

trafamadore says:
January 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm
Willis Eschenbach says: “I explained exactly how I did the math in my original post, as well as in the paper that was published in Diversity and Distributions. I discussed the delay you mention in declaring a species extinct. I went over all of that, and the peer reviewers for the scientific journal were happy with the math.”
Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.
————————————————
Might have saved time to put this forward in your original post.
So, your argument is that Willis cherry picked by going with mammals and birds? Is there some reason that mammals and birds should be disproportionately impervious to extinction (relative to the rest of species), some argument you’ve got to back that up, some basis for thinking that, something?

mpainter
January 25, 2013 8:22 pm

Traafamadore
=======================
Your list of tree frogs gone extinct is curious. Seems that most were confined to Sri Lanka or India.
Also, Philautus extirpo was identified in 2005 and maia and pardus in 2007, which means they were extirpated very soon after they were named. It seems to me that you have found some tree frogs with an extremely circumscribed range that somehow were doomed because of this. Sort of like the Texas Blind Cave Salamander that is found in only one cave in Texas.
Note the species given above: extirpo- such an odd name- means extirpated, does it not? It means that the discoverer of this species knew that it was doomed.
So Trafamadore, it seems that you have again uncritically swallowed the usual sort of panic talk that people like you love, which you again bring here and invite us to swallow.
Why don’t you do all of us a favor and study all the particulars on those frogs and determine, on a case by case basis, just exactly what led to the demise of each particular species and why they were vulnerable when other tree frogs are doing fine.
Do this, please, before you spill any more salt tears on this thread and rust up WUWT.

davidmhoffer
January 25, 2013 8:22 pm

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

S. Meyer
January 25, 2013 8:24 pm

@ WillR
So the Eastern Cougar is alive in Canada? Glad to hear it. The US Wildlife Service was sure it was not.
http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/newsreleasefinal.html
Which confirms how difficult it is to know for sure if a species is extinct. It is easy enough to show a species is stil around (1 sighting is enough), but much harder to say it is not. However, a species like that, blinking in and out of existence (in human view that is), could use some protection, don’t you think?

January 25, 2013 8:24 pm

D.B. Stealey says:
January 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm
“That comes with maturity.”
Which rather neatly brings us back to extinction. Where the immature…………………

trafamadore
January 25, 2013 8:27 pm

D.B. Stealey says: “So I am curious where trafamadore would draw the line, if species are all equal. Banana slugs?”
How long have banana slugs been around? You should research it a bit. It would be terrible if they have been around for more than 3 million years?

Swiss Bob
January 25, 2013 8:28 pm

Apologies for being off topic but I thought you might like this:
http://hurryupharry.org/2013/01/25/the-sexist-workers-party-crisis-continues/
It’s the reference to Socialist Workers Party members at the UAE. Why am I not surprised.

Michael Larkin
January 25, 2013 8:43 pm

Great post, Willis.

Retired Engineer John
January 25, 2013 8:44 pm

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

John Game
January 25, 2013 8:51 pm

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

Paul Marko
January 25, 2013 8:54 pm

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

S. Meyer
January 25, 2013 8:59 pm

Hi Willis, I really love your posts, always a treat! And I would agree with most you wrote above, in response to my post. I also agree that Wiki is not always reliable, but the one I quoted has links for everything, and the links I followed lead back to places like the Red List or US Wildlife Service.
Here is the link for the Saudi Gazelle at the Red List:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8974/0
But I don’t want to argue about individual species. Primarily, my concern is this: Please don’t let people read your post as meaning that the eradication of biodiversity is somehow no big deal.
And an awed guest in this world, I am, too. Where do you find those words….?

Chuck Bradley
January 25, 2013 9:21 pm

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

Eric Anderson
January 25, 2013 9:33 pm

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

scarletmacaw
January 25, 2013 9:40 pm

trafamadore says:
January 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm
Hmmmm. You sort of missing my major pt, that you ignore 99% of the rest of the species, the ones that at going extinct. Did you mention them? No. You are a fraud, but you think you can talk your way around it. Great. That’s your role.

You are missing the point. Willis studied mammals and birds because they were the only animals for which reliable data existed. E.O. Wilson claimed a very high rate of extinction due to habitat reduction, and stated that mammals and birds were most vulnerable. Willis showed that only a very small number of mammals and birds went extinct due to habitat reduction.
Your listing of a bunch of frogs does not answer the request for several reasons:
1. The discussion was about mammals and birds.
2. The alleged frogs were native to an island, and island extinctions are not evidence of extinction due to habitat loss.
3. There is scant evidence that the frog species you listed EVER existed.
4. The question asked for a list of animals that have gone extinct the last ten years. If those frogs actually ever did exist, they went extinct a long time ago.

January 25, 2013 9:44 pm

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

Um, why is the peregrine falcon different? Cause it flies high, fast and nests in inaccessible places?
So you’ve never seen a predator that has just caught a critter, say a chicken? The falcon/hawk/eagle or even the buzzard will spread their wings and try and bluff away other predators; makes it easy for a shotgun used by the chicken’s owner to end the falcon’s time. Sure it looks cool when a falcon takes a bird on the wing, there isn’t always a dumb pigeon flying around when falcons need food.
Nowadays when one can head down to the store and buy a roast chicken every day if desired, it is hard to imagine times that were/are harder. If you are eking out an existence and once a month or once a week, if your chickens are bountiful, you get to eat fresh chicken. Most of the time you’re eating food you’ve preserved; salt pork, summer sausages, ham (a version of salt pork), dried meat (beef, buffalo, venison, sparrow…). Just because life is easy for some people now, doesn’t mean it will always be easy nor does it mean everyone’s life is easy. It isn’t so long ago that a Presidential slogan was “A chicken for every pot…” Even if Hoover didn’t say it, it was still part of the ad campaign for Hoover.
Anyway, as you’ve might have guessed by now; people eking out their existence don’t like to share their food with thieves, which is how they view predators stealing some portions. Plus the thieves were rarely choosy and nesting hens were as likely to get caught as tough scrawny old roosters.
Today’s politically correct scruples are useless when viewing the past or even for prognosticating the future. Willis has laid down the challenge. Where are the bodies? Not just names, where are the bodies. Plus why are they dead? Exactly why? AGW makes a nice for a nice bum rap, but it lacks causality with true chance for redemption. If we don’t have a clue exactly why the critter/plant is in trouble there’s no chance we can man can help.
The family tree is composed of trunks and branches, all related. species quickly adjust to fit ecological niches. It’s man’s folly to believe any niche is exclusively for certain species.

Crispin in Waterloo
January 25, 2013 10:13 pm

Two old men, one a Caucasian and the other a Negro operated remote lighthouses on tiny islands. When they retired to the mainland both stations were automated.
The Red Book recorded the Local Extinction of two sub-species of humans.
I am beginning to understand how it works. Thanks Willis.

Eugene WR Gallun
January 25, 2013 10:26 pm

The main point is that E. O. Wilson’s claims are absolutely absurd.
A sophist knowing that to be true attempts to shift the argument to some detail and vigorously argues about that detail — hoping thereby to bury the central claim under a deluge of obscurantism (deliberate avoidance of clarity or explanation).
i repeat again the main point is that E. O. Wilson’s claims are absolutely absurd. Willis demonstates that by comparing actual data with Wilson’s claims. It is that simple comparison that the sophist wants at all costs to prevent people from centering on — therefore the deluge of obscurantism.Talk about ANYTHING but the central point that Willis is making — that E. O. Wilson’s claim’s are absolutely absurd.
Eugene WR Gallun

Philip Lloyd
January 25, 2013 10:45 pm

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

kwik
January 25, 2013 11:06 pm

thunderloon says:
January 25, 2013 at 8:03 pm
“I’d like a T-shirt with “Intellectuals go with what sounds good, Engineers go with what works. Don’t think: test.” on the front and “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” on the back.”
Very good !
Or perhaps
““Intellectuals go with what feels good, Engineers go with what works” on the front,
and
“Don’t excpect, Inspect” on the back ?

John Gorter
January 26, 2013 12:09 am

No time to read the comments, but as usual, correct Willis!
Even in Australia the extinction rates are overblown with if I recall correctly from my student days many years ago many species were not really different species at all – died out one place called something else elsewhere. Mitchell I think, or one of the then palaeontologist in England described the common wombat from bones in Wellington Caves as extinct, but note the name common! They were and still are everywhere in eastern Australiaia, just not recognised as the same thing back then. Then there is Burramys parvus, and Leadbeaters Possum, possibly the Parma Wallaby (found again in NZ I believe). Probably others. The extinction of the Australian megafauna is in my opinion at least tied to the first invasion of Australian 40-50 thousand years ago.
The other side of the coin is extinction opens up habitat for new species – nobody seems to talk about that. As a geologist I recall marine transgressions open up habitats for new species. My be we should hope for the global warming sea level high to introduce all those new habitats and new species!
Ciao
John in Milano

John Gorter
January 26, 2013 12:11 am

Oh, and Happy Australia Day to all other expat Aussies!
John in chilly Milano

Leg
January 26, 2013 12:13 am

No where in the biological world do I see any other species attempting to make the world a better place for other species (symbioses is for selfish gain that also benefits another organism). So I have to ask the question: who or what put humans in charge of assuring biodiversity? Does being the top of the food chain demand that we do this? Is it just hubris?
I do not have an answer to these questions and would love ot hear what some of you have to say (maybe trafamadore excluded). However, I also argue it is in our self-interest for species survival to assure biodiverisity and stewardship. Earth’s history is filled with calamaties – droughts, ice ages, meteors, et cetera. In the event of a calamity, the more species there are, the better humans’ chances of survival due to our extraordinary ability to exploit food sources. However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low. Aditionally we now create new “species” in the laboratory especially in the cereal grains. What many do not know is such GM species have the effect of decreasing the amount of land needed for farming and can increase the habitats of potentially endangered species.

January 26, 2013 12:47 am

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

January 26, 2013 1:49 am

Excellent article, Wilis (as always!) As far as I know, the modern flap about accelerated extinction rates started around 1979 with Norman Myers’s book “The Sinking Ark” and some references in the Global 2000 Report to the President in 1980 (would be very interested to know about any earlier instances.)
Back then, experts thought that 15-20% of all species might be extinct by 2000, but now, of course, they’re talking about 2050, and in 2050 (who knows?) I think it likely they’ll be talking about 2100.
I’ve just blogged about this myself, by the way, and referenced your “Historical bird and terrestrial mammal extinction rates and causes” paper of 2011:
http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/extinction-guest-post-by-alex-cull/

Les Johnson
January 26, 2013 1:57 am

Willis: On the IUCN, I have used it since 2003. its difficult to find past data in the IUCN, so I started recording it.
The IUCN in 2003 stated that 844 species have gone extinct since 1500 (table 3a and b). In the 2008 report, the number was 869. In the 2009 report, its 875. In 2012 it was 795.
Looks like they found some, doesn’t it?

Abiogenesis
January 26, 2013 2:04 am

trafamadman,
You listed island species only and offered no explanion as to why these frogs are no longer about.
Philautus halyi was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka. It was last reported sometime in the 19th century.
Philautus dimbullae was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka.
Philautus malcolmsmithi was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka and only known to science from the holotype.
Philautus rugatus was a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It was endemic to Sri Lanka.
I could not be bothered to list the fates of the other frogs, but I do suggest you stop licking toads.

Berényi Péter
January 26, 2013 2:08 am

Willis, the case of Southern birch mouse, a continental mammalian (sub)species, once believed to have gone extinct, may have some interest to you.
Folia Zool. – 57(3): 308–312 (2008)
New record of Southern birch mouse, Sicista subtilis trizona in Hungary
Tamás Cserkész and András Gubányi
No living specimen was seen (by experts!) for 80 years, in a densely populated region of Europe (although hundreds of skull-remains were detected in owl pellets in the meantime, 140 of them in attics of just 2 farm buildings). Anyway, on June 21, 2006 a living specimen was trapped successfully (in a Landscape Protection Area, near Mezőcsát, Hungary), followed by another 42 in the same year. Still, the authors claim “Today, the distribution range of the trizona subspecies has shrunken into only one location, nearing extinction.” Then, in last year it was found “on more locations near the city of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca)”, Transylvania.

Gareth Phillips
January 26, 2013 2:11 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am
Gareth Phillips says:
January 25, 2013 at 10:53 am
It’s reported today that for the first time on record, Mistle thrushes are completely absent from UK gardens. Their population along with sparrows and starlings has crashed. On the other hand many species have done well. Big garden bird count next weekend for those who want to get involved.
I’ve always wondered why it is that folks love catastrophes. Half a catastrophe just won’t do. I do not find a single report saying that there were no mistle thrushes seen in the UK. I see reports that their numbers have decreased by half … but half a catastrophe won’t do.
w.
PS—If I were a Mistle Thrush, you wouldn’t find my okole in England, it’s an icebox right now …
Calm down Willis, what I was trying to say is that some bird species have crashed in the UK, it’s not being a catastrophist, it’s just facts. It happens to lots of birds, though the reasons for this in the UK at least are unclear. Unlike the passenger pigeon. Then again some species have done really well. To me this suggests that there changes and adaptions going on whereby various species adapt, some benefit, other do badly. That’s Darwinian evolution for you. Species doing well never make the news, species reducing in numbers sell papers. From my perspective I’m pleased with the increase in Gold finches and Raptors, pretty spectacular birds, but I’d guess that in a hundred years time their numbers will fall in the face of another trend. By the way, what is an Okole? is it like a Twll Du? I also don’t live in England!

AllanM
January 26, 2013 2:31 am
knr
January 26, 2013 2:56 am

‘How can you seriously claim that we’re losing dozens and dozens of species per year when there is absolutely no sign of that in the records?’
Well there is the catch , ‘yet to be classified’ idea that there probable are species which are currently unknown to science , especially insects , so you add in a guess for that have another guess how are going or have gone extinct and you numbers start to look a lot ‘better ‘
Extinction is and always has been a on going process , you could even argue its required for the evolution of some species, the trick is is to watch the way normal rates of this are placed under ‘man made ‘ as if it where not for human’s actions this would never have happened in the first place. Its the garden of Eden complex .

Leg
January 26, 2013 3:05 am

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

January 26, 2013 3:09 am

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

January 26, 2013 3:15 am

Good to see this update. By coincidence, Alex Cull has just covered E.O. Wilson v. Eschenbach & Loehle here:
http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/extinction-guest-post-by-alex-cull/

Chris Wright
January 26, 2013 3:31 am

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

Jakehig
January 26, 2013 3:35 am

Excellent post, as always: good to bring another alarmist scare under the spotlight.
However it does look as if quite a few other folk were saying much the same a long time back. Bjorn Lonborg’s book, the Skeptical (sic) Environmentalist, has a section on Biodiversity. Under the heading “Check the Data” he cites a number of sources which report findings very different from the headline scare stories. For example, a book by Whitmore & Sayer of 1992 apparently comes up with a figure of 0.08% – much like your comments. Other sources give similar, low figures.
PS. I have not read through all the posts so apologies if this duplicates someone else’s comment.

Editor
January 26, 2013 4:04 am

albertalad – “Might I comment the wolf became extinct in the US until Canada resupplied in Yellowstone as an experiment. Wolves are still rare in Europe.
It could be argued that the grey wolf is alive and well worldwide, in the form of domestic dogs.
http://www.trussel.com/prehist/news24.htm
“Fido may be cute, cuddly and harmless. But in his genes, he’s a wolf.”
So, is Canis Familiaris a separate species, or is it really still Canis Lupus? I’m not convinced the answer is simple.

Keitho
Editor
January 26, 2013 4:14 am

DCA says:
January 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm (Edit)
Willis,
@ http://judithcurry.com/2013/01/25/open-thread-weekend-7/#more-10986
A fan of *MORE* discourse commented on your post.
It appears he doesn’t have the nerve to address you directly.
——————————————————————————————–
hahaha . . he got handed his ass yet still kept on as if he was right.

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 4:16 am

We also need to remember that many species that were assumed to be extinct are rediscovered!
Sometime in the future some extinct species may eventually be revived
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-09-29/extinct-animals-back-from-the-dead/2278250

Theo Goodwin
January 26, 2013 4:17 am

“People are always giving me grief about how I’m not getting with the picture, I’m not following the herd, I’m not kowtowing to the consensus. I have no problem doing that, particularly given my experience regarding extinctions. For years I was the only person I knew of who was making the claim that E. O. Wilson should have stuck to his ants and left extinctions alone. Wherever I looked scientists disagreed with my findings. I didn’t have one person I knew, or one person I read, who thought I was right. Heck, even now, a decade later, the nettle still hasn’t been grasped, people are just beginning to realize that they were fools to blindly believe Wilson, and to try to manage a graceful climb down from the positions they took.”
Another brilliant article. You do have an instinct for the empirical. So sad that so many in science have lost it. As I have said on occasion, you are the hero of our time. No snark intended. Just thirty years ago the common man and the common Phd held your views. Those views are essential to the health of a democratic republic.

January 26, 2013 4:26 am

if you were making the claim that it’s raining, wouldn’t you at least look out the ivory windows to see if water were actually falling from the sky?
Famously, UK legislators passed our punitive bill to curb carbon emissions while it was snowing.

Les Johnson
January 26, 2013 4:45 am

Jimbo: in my earlier post, I show that the IUCN has apparently found 80 species between 2009 and 2012 (nearly 10% of the total extinctions).
This documents the ones found just between 2011 and 2012.
http://www.iucnredlist.org/documents/summarystatistics/2012_2_RL_Stats_Table_7.pdf

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 4:59 am

For those interested The Guardian runs a series on newly discovered species called New To Nature.

Robbie
January 26, 2013 5:28 am

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

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 5:29 am

It’s worse than we thought. Apparently over 98% of species that ever lived are now extinct.
Reference
Fichter, George S. (1995). Endangered animals. USA: Golden Books Publishing Company. pp. 5. ISBN 1-58238-138-0.
Also, new species are being formed today via speciation. Aside from speciation, new species can emerge via hybrid speciation.
Climate change has always occurred and with it old species die off and new ones emerge. Cut back on deforestation, pollution and over hunting and species will do just fine. Some creatures seem to like a warming planet, like polar bears, whose number have now just gone up while the Arctic sea ice extent shrivels.

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 5:41 am

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

Tim Groves
January 26, 2013 5:58 am

“Japanese River Otter…
The Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) (日本川獺 Nihon-kawauso[1]?) is an extinct variety of otter formerly widespread in Japan. Dating back to the 1880s, it was even seen in Tokyo. The population suddenly shrank in the 1930s, and the mammal nearly vanished. Since then, it has only been spotted several times, in 1964 in the Seto Inland Sea, and in the Uwa Sea in 1972 and 1973. The last official sighting of one was in the southern part of Kochi Prefecture in 1979, when it was photographed in the mouth of the Shinjo River in Susaki. It was subsequently classified as a “Critically Endangered” species on the Japanese Red List,[2] On 28 August 2012, the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct by the Ministry of the Environment.[3][4] On January 10, 2013, dozens of eyewitnesses reported seeing them in Aichi Prefecture.
Might be too soon for the Otter — they can have some of the otters that splash in the river out back of my house…”
There haven’t been any confirmed sightings of the Japanese river otter or its droppings anywhere outside of Shikoku (Japan’s fourth largest island) since the end of the Second World War. In the absence of any confirmed sightings anywhere in Japan in over 30 years, it is unlikely that any living individuals of this species exist today, and any otter-like creatures spotted in Aichi Prefecture (in central Honshu) are most likely to be mink or possibly copyu. Both of these exotic species have been confirmed as living feral in Aichi.

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 6:02 am

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

Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation
Abstract
Temperatures in tropical regions are estimated to have increased by 3° to 5°C, compared with Late Paleocene values, during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, 56.3 million years ago) event. We investigated the tropical forest response to this rapid warming by evaluating the palynological record of three stratigraphic sections in eastern Colombia and western Venezuela. We observed a rapid and distinct increase in plant diversity and origination rates, with a set of new taxa, mostly angiosperms, added to the existing stock of low-diversity Paleocene flora. There is no evidence for enhanced aridity in the northern Neotropics. The tropical rainforest was able to persist under elevated temperatures and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast to speculations that tropical ecosystems were severely compromised by heat stress.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/957

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

T. G. Brown
January 26, 2013 6:09 am

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

January 26, 2013 6:42 am

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

January 26, 2013 7:16 am

Leg: I think it’s hubris. We preach Darwin, survival of the fittest, and how evolution resulted in “the species we have today” and then turn right around and pretend none of this is true by trying to stop any evolution and removal of the non-fit out there. We declared ourselves God and act accordingly. Yes, it is in our best interest to preserve species as much as practicable. It is not in our interest to return to cave dwelling in an effort to do what Darwin clearly stated was impossible–stop evolution. Species die out, with or without us. And the entire biosphere does not collapse if a species goes extinct. (Strangely, we never seem to mind “intrusive new species” that might use resources a current species needs.) Right now, we want to “freeze” everything into a static condition where NOTHING ever goes extinct, changes, etc. This what we call “fantasy”.
As for wolves, they were NOT EXTINCT in Yellowstone. They were NOT LIVING THERE at present. This “location extinction” is just flat out stupid. If everyone moves out of a town and there are no people left, are people EXTINCT in that town? Of course not, and to say so is just stupid. Extinct means gone from the face of the earth EVERYWHERE, not moved to a new location. Only politics uses stupid terms like “extinct in this location”. It’s to trick people into believing a lie. Wolves were not living in Yellowstone anymore. There was no extinction involved in any sense whatsoever. If there were, we could not have moved new ones in.

DirkH
January 26, 2013 7:23 am

Tim Groves says:
January 26, 2013 at 5:58 am
“Japanese River Otter…”
Confirms Willis. He mentioned extinctions on islands.
See the range of the European or Eurasian Otter for comparison – goes right across the whole of Eurasia but excludes the Japanese islands.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:European_Otter_area.png

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 8:18 am

Leg says: “However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low.”
Not only Leg, but all of you really have no sense of time or numbers…or what it means to the generations after us. I am from western NY but I never saw a passenger pigeon. (That was their summer breeding ground, in case you didnt know.) Information about the long dead dinosaurs is not only of interest to to us but to non scientists as well, and new answered questions, even the somewhat speculative ones, end up in the news the day after they are talked about.
It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher. So let take that 100x number and go with it, boys and girls:
So that means that 1000 per 1000000 are lost and 10 per 1000000 are gained each year, for a net of 990/1000000 lost per year. So that means that a species has a (1000000-990)/1000000 chance of surviving the year, that is, 0.99901 which seems sort of good, right? So in 2 years, that would be 0.99901x 0.0.99901 or 0.998, that is 99.8% still here, not too bad. So let’s do a century, 0.99901^100, we are down to 90% of the species, and after 200 years more, 75% surviving. I guess some people would say not too bad, (those who think the economy is the most important thing in their lives and think Paris is an awful place to visit because they are socialists.)
Up to now there have been 5 major extinctions on earth, and the combination of habitant loss and AGW–caused by one species, us–is certainly leading to the 6th. So be proud, Leg, it’s no big deal.

January 26, 2013 8:21 am

All the money that’s to be WASTED mitigating “climate disruption” could be used to create corridors, establish sanctuaries, preserve existing habitat. study and remedy actual endangerment. But no, It will be wasted. CAGW alarmism stands out as the greatest threat to environmentalism and Ecology, IMO.
Endangered species are more endangered now than they might be. If only Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and WWF didn’t exist, if only.
(Take note Marxists: The greatest pollution I have heard of in my lifetime is the pollution generated accomplishing the USSR’s “5 year Plans”)

January 26, 2013 8:26 am

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

January 26, 2013 8:33 am

Here in the Post-Normal world, species shall not go extinct and the climate shall not change.

DirkH
January 26, 2013 8:37 am

trafamadore says:
January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am
“It is thought that 10 new species per million species come into existence every year, and 10 go extinct. Thats _all_ creatures, not just the ones we see running around our backyards. Right now, we are seem to be about 100x higher than that on the extinction side, and many estimates are much higher.”
Well, read Willis’ post. He mentions exactly those estimates you use, namely Wilson’s assumptions. Wilson’s argument is like yours: Let’s estimate so and so much species go extinct each year, then that and that will happen after so and so many years. Wilson NEVER gives a factual basis for his assumptions.
See also Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist where this is discussed in length.
Assuming that the temperature of the Earth rises by one centigrade a year the oceans will start cooking in 90 years! That proves that we must do something NOW! See how this works?

January 26, 2013 8:38 am

trafamadore says:
January 26, 2013 at 8:18 am
Leg says: “However, losing an occasional species is no big deal if the numbers are low.”
Not only Leg, but all of you really have no sense of time or numbers…or what it means to the generations after us. etc.

Pot, kettle, black — stir words well, arrange in sentences…
It looks to me like you are making things up. This is the point at which I — and hopefully all others — tune you out and go on with life.
Cheers.

January 26, 2013 8:44 am

trafamadore: Please explain the horror of not having seen a passenger pigeon.
If there were 5 previous great extinctions, caused by something other than one species, why is the possibility of another so horrifying? Do we vilify nature for having the unmitigated gall to have caused 5 previous mass extinctions? Nature did not choose this, you say? It’s value neutral? Sure, you keep telling yourself that.
If evolution is correct, then our causing a mass extinction is just part of the evolution. If we are space aliens or God made us, then maybe we could be held partially culpable, IF we can prove definitively that our causing an extinction is a bad thing. Again, it happened 5 other times and we had nothing to do with it.
Why is the extinction of a species, or even many, a crisis? It’s part of nature and that’s obvious from past extinctions. Maybe we can slow the process, but I seriously doubt we can stop it. We are not that powerful, contrary to environmentalists beliefs.

davidmhoffer
January 26, 2013 8:45 am

trafamadore has failed to answer my question about her and the tigers. Why?

wsbriggs
January 26, 2013 8:50 am

This post has been worth 3 bags of popcorn! Hell, I’ll make it a four bagger!
Once again the massive numbers (relatively speaking) of supposedly knowledgeable people who fail to do their homework is astonishing. We see Appeal to Authority, Ad Hominum, Appeal to Trust, etc. not to mention, failure to read.
If one wished to see the end result of much of our progressive schooling, one only has to take a seat a watch the proceedings when Willis posts his observations. He may not always be correct – he has corrected himself in the past – but assuming he doesn’t know what he’s talking about is generally a fools errand and leads to public embarrassment.
It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts Willis. Long may you live and prosper.

John West
January 26, 2013 8:53 am

JamesNV says:
”John West – that’s an offensive and idiotic comparison.”
Luckily, I live in a country where it’s not a crime to offend you, yet.
Yea, you’re right it’s idiotic to compare NASA’s decision to launch while under considerable political pressure to launch and generally perceiving the risk of launching small and the risk of not launching unknown and sometime in the future to the current decision of launching “carbon controls” while under considerable political pressure to do so and generally perceiving the risk of such legislation small and the risk of not controlling “carbon” unknown and sometime in the future. /sarc

D.B. Stealey
January 26, 2013 9:36 am

trafamadore asserts:
“…all of you really have no sense…”
If I was trafamadore’s friend, I would advise him to pick a battle that he can possibly win. But here, he is channeling Custer: he is surrounded by folks who are using facts to slaughter him.
What trafamadore proposes is that there should never be a species extinction under any circumstances. Once a species appears, trafamidor believes that it must be given the universal right to exist indefinitely.
But the universe doesn’t work that way. It is actually pretty amazing that so few species go extinct. And when there is a mass extinction, it is always followed by a flood of new species that take advantage of the abandoned niches. Creative destruction leads to more biodiversity, not less.
So keep arguing your untenable position, trafamadore. We’re enjoying the spectacle of seeing your okole being handed to you. ☺

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 9:39 am

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

S. Meyer
January 26, 2013 9:54 am

@ RobRoy
“RobRoy says:
January 26, 2013 at 8:21 am
All the money that’s to be WASTED mitigating “climate disruption” could be used to create corridors, establish sanctuaries, preserve existing habitat. study and remedy actual endangerment. But no, It will be wasted. CAGW alarmism stands out as the greatest threat to environmentalism and Ecology, IMO.”
Well said! I could not agree more.
I would also agree with many others who have pointed out that we cannot and should not even try to preserve every single species. That would be a fool’s errand. Nature is in a constant state of flux, and I think our desire to keep things as they are comes directly from our fear and awareness of our own death. The loss of a species is also not a tragedy just because that particular species is cuddly or beautiful. 
The real problem, in my view, is, as Willis pointed out, the loss of diversity. If we lose too many species too quickly, we will have impoverished ourselves. In that regard I think we need to take a close look at the situation, without hysteria or a political agenda. There are things we can and should do now. One proposal I read about is to establish DNA banks for future use.
http://www.enotes.com/dna-banks-endangered-animals-reference/dna-banks-endangered-animals

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 9:56 am

Reality check says: “If evolution is correct, then our causing a mass extinction is just part of the evolution. If we are space aliens or God made us, then maybe we could be held partially culpable, IF we can prove definitively that our causing an extinction is a bad thing. Again, it happened 5 other times and we had nothing to do with it.”
Again, you seem to have no sense of time. What happens if in a 1000 years, a blink of time, we are down to some low percentage of species, perhaps including us, perhaps not. Do you have an ideal of how long it takes to recover? You measure it in 10’s of millions of years. A time most of us really cant get our heads around. You are right that the earth might survive and recover. But it is not a sure thing that we will be here to witness it.

John West
January 26, 2013 10:11 am

Steve P says:
”The Native American bison or buffalo, is a good example of a creature that was almost extirpated by methodical slaughter, but which lumbers on today in greatly reduced numbers.”
__________________________________________________
Well, that’s the narrative, but I’m not so sure it’s true.
“Approximately 60 million Bison roamed North America when Europeans discovered it.” http://www.conservenature.org/learn_about_wildlife/prairie/bison.htm
“In August 1963, 18 bison were transported from the holding facility and released approximately 25 km north of Fort Providence. Two animals died soon after. The 16 survivors founded the Mackenzie bison population, which increased to 2,400 animals by 1989.”
http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/documents/content/wood_bison_management_strategy.pdf
So, that’s about a 20% growth rate.
“In 1871 several thousand hunters were in the field and it is estimated that from 3,000 to 4,000 buffaloes were killed daily.” http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/b/buffalo.html
Kills at around peak were about 4000/day = 1.5 million/year.
@ About 60,000,000 bison w/ 20% growth rate = about 12,000,000 bison born each year above natural deaths.
For 4000 kills/day to keep up with new calves, the growth rate would have had to be a mere 2.5% or so.
“Joel Berger and Steven L. Cain wrote about the disease Brucellosis and how bison spread it. Bison carry the disease and if released from reserves, will be exposing it to livestock. Brucellosis is a disease that causes abortion in livestock and is often transmitted through bison’s expelled fetuses or birth fluids:

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

Included in this research is a chart to visually explain the number of infected cattle both exposed to buffalo regions and separate from them. For instance, in Texas, away from roaming bison, the number of successful pregnancies and births of cattle is nearly double that of most public park regions, where bison are abundant. Still, the number in most public park regions is near double those that are near Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.”
– Reproductive Synchrony in Brucellosis-Exposed Bison in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and in Noninfected Populations
”Transmission occurred between cattle and bison, and bison and bison.”
Foot-and-mouth disease in North American bison (Bison bison) and elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni): susceptibility, intra- and interspecies transmission, clinical signs, and lesions.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18436660
Brucellosis is found in modern Bison populations.
Brucellosis reduces a populations overall birthrate.
FMD has a 5-50% mortality rate in domestic herds.
FMD reduces milk output & pregnancy rates.
FMD survivors are weakened, a precarious state in the wild.
IMHO: Without FMD, Brucellosis, and probably other diseases drastically reducing both the number of Bison and their ability to reproduce, hunters would have had difficulty denting the Bison herd let alone all but decimating it.
My gut tells me we would have had a hard time manufacturing enough ammo to dent the bison population without the diseases doing the heavy lifting.

Gareth Phillips
January 26, 2013 10:12 am

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

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 10:13 am

D.B. Stealey says:”What trafamadore proposes is that there should never be a species extinction under any circumstances.”
Um. Ms. or Mr. Facts, could you pls document what you foolishly say?

D.B. Stealey
January 26, 2013 10:31 am

trafamadore says:
“…could you pls document what you foolishly say?”
Of course I can.
You specifically stated that all species are “equal”. If your position is that the human species should not go extinct, then your position is ipso facto that no species should go extinct.
Rational discourse is not your strong point, is it?

January 26, 2013 10:32 am

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

davidmhoffer
January 26, 2013 10:55 am

trafamadore says:
January 26, 2013 at 9:39 am
davidmhoffer says: “trafamadore has failed to answer my question about her and the tigers. Why?”
Because you only had two choices and I dont like multiple guess Qs. Oh, and it’s irrelevant.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Oh it is relevant and you darn well know it (not to mention that there were three choices not two).
The fact of the matter is that when it becomes personal, when it becomes YOUR life that is on the line, you’d want those tigers dead, extinction be d@mned. If you say otherwise, you are a liar. Nobody would willingly die to save another species from extinction.
You didn’t answer because doing so reveals the truth. You’re fine being all altruistic until the consequences are personal. You’re fine with all the moral arguments about the sanctity of life and how we should care for the planet and respect other species until it is YOU that has to pay the price. As long as the people who starve to death or freeze to death are a long way away where you don’t have to see them die, far away where you can pretend they don’t even exist let alone suffer the consequences of your policies, that’s OK. But as soon as it is YOU that has to suffer, when it is YOU that has to die, then suddenly it is “irrelevant”.
You are nothing but a selfish hypocrite attempting to pass themselves off as altruistic and humanitarian, but when it is YOU that may suffer, you won’t even answer the question.
I’d shoot the tigers in a heartbeat, it would never cross my mind that there was any choice in the matter. It saddens me that were the situation reversed, I have no confidence that you would do the right thing.

January 26, 2013 11:36 am

Trafamadore, your cause for alarm contains too many ifs. Around these parts, we have a saying that, “If grasshoppers carried six-shooters, they wouldn’t have to be worried about bluejays.”
Humans causing the sixth wave of extinction? Please present the proof for that. We are all awaiting the evidence.

S. Meyer
January 26, 2013 11:44 am

@davidimhoffer
“trafamadore;
Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you. Suppose that your only hope is me, because I’m the only person anywhere near who can do anything about the situation, and luckily I have a loaded rifle and know how to use it. For future reference as I will have only seconds to consider my actions should such a situation occur at some point in the future, would you like me to:
a) shoot the tigers
b) shoot you
c) stand by and let nature take its course”
Strange that I should feel the need to come to trafamadore’s defense again, today! But, David, this is really not a fair argument. I suppose that there is something you care about deeply? Let’s say that “something” would be that “there is no such thing as global warmin”g? And now, imagine the hypothetical situation that you could end the whole global warming hysteria by immolating yourself in public…. Would you do it? Of course not, and neither would I. But would that make you a hypocrite? Would that make your concern less valid? You would be a hypocrite only if you asked other people to die for that thing you feel strongly about. I have not heard trafamadore do that.
One reason I have been frequenting this blog recently is that you can find a lot of posts here which focus on science, rather than demagoguery. Please, please, can we keep it that way?

clipe
January 26, 2013 11:44 am
Gareth Phillips
January 26, 2013 11:46 am

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

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 12:01 pm

D.B. Stealey says:”You specifically stated that all species are “equal”. If your position is that the human species should not go extinct, then your position is ipso facto that no species should go extinct.”
Where did I say that the human species should not go extinct? I think you are a little confused.

Steve P
January 26, 2013 12:05 pm

John West says:
January 26, 2013 at 10:11 am
OK John, I’ll play.
Can you provide any evidence or historical accounts of a massive die-off of Buffalo toward the end of the 19th century that has been attributed to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), or any other disease?
Your source claims that ““In 1871 several thousand hunters were in the field and it is estimated that from 3,000 to 4,000 buffaloes were killed daily.”
That’s an average of about one buffalo per hunter per day in 1871 in whatever field was being described, but some of the hunters were rather better at killing bison. Here’s what Buffalo Bill did one day:

The buffaloes were quite plenty, and it was agreed that we should go into the same herd at the same time and “make a run,” as we called it, each one killing as many as possible. A referee was to follow each of us on horseback when we entered the herd, and count the buffaloes killed by each man. The St. Louis excursionists, as well as the other spectators, rode out to the vicinity of the hunting grounds in wagons and on horseback, keeping well out of sight of the buffaloes, so as not to frighten them, until the time came for us to dash into the herd; when they were to come up as near as they pleased and witness the chase.
At last the time came to begin the match. Comstock and I dashed into a herd, followed by the referees. The buffaloes separated; Comstock took the left bunch and I the right. My great forte in killing buffaloes from horseback was to get them circling by riding my horse at the head of the herd, shooting the leaders, thus crowding their followers to the left, till they would finally circle round and round. On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast, until I had killed thirty-eight; which finished my run.
Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd, which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together. I had “nursed” my buffaloes, as a billiard-player does the balls when he makes a big run.
Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)

There are numerous historical accounts of the slaughter, and opinions about it, but my gut won’t allow me to post any more right now. Nevertheless, whatever the cause of their demise, I would repeat my closing question from above. If the 60+ million buffalo were alive today, where would they live?
atheok says:
January 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Um….

Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was banned.
One of my first red flags about CAGW and the CO2 scare was my impression that the environmental movement was being hijacked by the climate alarmists. To repeat what I’ve said, I think it was a good article by Willis, especially because it has generated some discussion that may play a small role in helping the environmental movement get back on track.
Finally, I had a gut extinction of my own late last year thanks to the GII 4 Sydney strain of norovirus.

Jimbo
January 26, 2013 12:07 pm

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

Exactly! May I also add the word evolution.

davidmhoffer
January 26, 2013 12:13 pm

S. Meyer;
One reason I have been frequenting this blog recently is that you can find a lot of posts here which focus on science, rather than demagoguery. Please, please, can we keep it that way?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
The alarmists are proposing draconian measures that would sentence billions to lives of misery and death. They do on the backs of science that simply does not stand up to scrutiny, this thread being a fine example. Politics, science, and economics are inextricably intertwined. That’s the reality of the way the world actually works. Deal with it.

davidmhoffer
January 26, 2013 12:15 pm

S. Meyer;
You would be a hypocrite only if you asked other people to die for that thing you feel strongly about. I have not heard trafamadore do that.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Because you look at her arguments in isolation, you do not consider the broader consequences. Then you call ME a demagogue. LOL.

Gary Pearse
January 26, 2013 12:27 pm

Hi Willis and:
John West says:
January 26, 2013 at 10:11 am
– a bit on extinct Buffalo in Yukon Territory:
“Recent interviews with First Nation elders in southeastern Yukon also support the assumption of bison still being present in the Ross River and Liard area last century, with the last bison disappearing early this century (1900s)”
http://www.yfwcm.ca/mgmtplans/bisonplan/history.php
Not in the report above: It is anecdotal there were a few buffalo in the Carmacks area of central Yukon noted by gold rush visitors but it was reported that they had disappeared, probably after a few severe winters with deep snow.
In 1970, while in a prospecting camp on an island in the Snag River (island because of the abundance of Grizzly bears) just east of the Kluane Range in southwestern Yukon, my map work was interrupted by a helicopter landing on the island. I quickly rolled up my map and put away aerial photos to ensure competitors wouldn’t surmise what my plans were and went out to greet my guest – a big, hearty, red-headed bushy fellow who indeed was with a competing exploration party. He was a young fellow from the Netherlands and he was in a great excited state – I thought there must have been an accident. He motioned me to climb aboard and as I buckled in he said he had run into a large herd of Muskoxen. I assured him that they most likely were not Muskoxen this far south. A few minutes later, airborne, we spotted the herd – it was a couple of dozen buffalo with their winter wool coming off in skeins and decorating the buck brush. They looked fat and healthy and, of course, I realized we were in the “no snow” shadow on the east side of the Kluanes – no buffalo conservation park was this. I reported their presence by radio to the Yukon Forest Service at the time and they assured me that it was probably a “couple of moose”. I’m not sure what their status is a present but I note that the Yukon government website above doesn’t mention them today. Where I was was a pretty unbeaten track in those days. It seems that the people who look after our “biodiversity” do it largely from airconditioned offices.

John West
January 26, 2013 1:27 pm

Steve P says:
“That’s an average of about one buffalo per hunter per day in 1871 in whatever field was being described, but some of the hunters were rather better at killing bison.”
The answer is in the question. Buffalo Bill didn’t go hunting 365 days/year. When he went hunting he killed a lot of buffalo, but when he didn’t he killed a lot of whiskey bottles or whatever he was into; hence the average.
” Can you provide any evidence or historical accounts of a massive die-off of Buffalo toward the end of the 19th century that has been attributed to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), or any other disease?“
Short answer: Nope. (Darn it)
Long answer: Exposure to European diseases would have started much earlier than late 19th century. Lewis and Clarke knew they were back to civilization when they saw domestic cattle instead of buffalo , so exposure to cattle on the fringes of their range was occurring at least by the early 19th century and probably much earlier than that. Also, not just “die offs” but a pronounced reduction in reproductive ability being a major mechanism for a ~60 million herd with potentially a 20% annual growth rate to not be able to out produce some additional ~1.5 million losses per year. (Assuming these estimates are in the ball-park.)
Thanks for playing.
What I could really use is some evidence of munitions production during the period, but haven’t been able to scrounge anything yet. That might give me a clue, yea or nay.

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 1:29 pm

Willirs says: “Since that “100x” number has no support except for your propensity to make wild statement, I’m sorry, but I won’t “take that number and go with it.” Anyone who believes numbers based on your unsupported word is”
Mmmm. Let’s see. The background extinction rate for most groups is like 5 in a million/year, I used 10 because it was easier to do the calculations. But, for mammals (thinking birds too, someone should check) the number is lower, something like 1/M/yr. (Mammal/birds are harder to kill off I guess.) So there are what, 5000 species of animals and some 100 have gone extinct in the last 200 years, a time when you would expect 200*5000/1000000 extinctions, which happens to be 1. So there is my 100X. Or we can do the calc for birds. There are about 200 extinct in the last 200 years and there are about 10000 species, so you would expect 200×10000/1000000, which happens to be 2. So there is my 100x again. So we can play with the numbers back and forth, but you really arent going to change that number much.
Island argument for extinctions has been around for a long while, but what is hurting now is the amazing lost of habitant on the continents, thus creating a new kind of “islands”, ecological ones, and as those islands disappear, the species do too. Superimpose on that the fact that we dont know the complete scale of loss of insect and other invertebrates, some of which have habitants that had only a few acres in the Amazon to start with, many we don’t even know exist. So when Eldredge or Wilson come up with these numbers–what are they, 2000-3000 species per year?–it’s based on 10,000,000 species that used to loose 30 species a yr now at a new extinction rate 100x greater, a pretty sad situation, but their logic seems reasonable. There was a article in Nature last week that argued those 2000-3000 numbers should be a little lower, but not allot.
I think Wills isnt looking for the bodies in the right place…he needs to be on his hands and knees in the Tropics, home to most of the Earth’s species.
And, what happens to this extinction rate if the Earth’s temperature goes up? Most biologist dont believe it will go down.

John West
January 26, 2013 1:38 pm

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

Gail Combs
January 26, 2013 1:50 pm

S. Meyer says:
January 26, 2013 at 11:44 am
@davidimhoffer
“trafamadore;
Suppose for a moment that you are trapped in a cage with the last two tigers on earth, a breeding pair. They are very hungry and are advancing on you….. But, David, this is really not a fair argument….
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Actually it is. Only in my case it is coyotes… This is a friend of my Brother-in-law link My next door neighbor lost his entire heard of goats, another friend a herd of sheep and Pat, a third friend lost all her calves. It is no longer safe to leave the house without a gun especially at dawn and dust in my area. Coyotes are not the only predators around either. Around here there are mountain lions, red wolves (released) melanistic jaguars (released) and of course bear, bobcats and red and gray fox. (Note the release of the jaguar (in Florida) was on the internet at the site linked but has been wiped. There was also the report of a pair to be release sighted at a rest area in the Smokies.)
As far as the cats go we are told we are seeing things, the eastern cougar/mountain lion is extinct, there are no black melanistic jaguar Yadi ya… OOPS Mountain lion killed in Conn. had walked from S. Dakota I guess the wild life boys can not deny this one. Since it is illegal to shoot them it is Shoot, Shovel and Shut-up so no concrete evidence is ever seen by ‘officials’

Gail Combs
January 26, 2013 2:21 pm

atheok says:
January 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm
Um….
Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was ban….
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
The chicken farmers quit shooting falcons because they quit raising them free range and instead they raise them in commercial chicken houses Something like 80% – 90% of all American chicken (and pork) are raise in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. (CAFO)

January 26, 2013 2:57 pm

“Steve P says: January 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm
…Funny that chicken farmers have now apparently stopped shooting falcons, and it’s probably just a coincidence that they did so at about the same time that DDT was banned.
One of my first red flags about CAGW and the CO2 scare was my impression that the environmental movement was being hijacked by the climate alarmists. To repeat what I’ve said, I think it was a good article by Willis, especially because it has generated some discussion that may play a small role in helping the environmental movement get back on track…”

SteveP: Yah! When it becomes a Federal crime with major financial penalties, shooting birds of prey, carrion birds and others (like seagulls) stopped getting shot, mostly. Funny thing, it was right at the same time that the Federal poison bait campaign against coyotes ended.
Excellent post about Buffalo Bill and his experience was not the only one. Bat Masterson and his brother initially tried their hands at being mule skinners and went into sheriff work as a preferred alternative to skinning buffalo, all day in the hot sun. Many unemployed and out of work miners sought to become buffalo hunters with deadly results to the buffalo. http://www.nanations.com/buffalo/southern_herd.htm as a source; even if this source does have an opinion about buffalo.
and I agree Steve; it is an excellent article by Willis. And your posts are supportive and informative. I wanted to highlight the differences between the mores of yesterday and today and your post offered the opportunity.
I was a woods and mountain hiker back in the sixties and seventies and between the outdoors, assisting a farmer and trying to raise my own food I was considered a far left wacko. Odd how the harder the work is, the less people think of you… Somewhere in the 1990s – new millenium, the eco-nuts moved the left goalpost so that friends now consider me conservative. and yes, hijacked the environment movement is an excellent description for it.
My parents were great depression era children. One of my bosses told me about when he was young, chicken for dinner was a rare and special event. He was in his teens before they had a turkey for thanksgiving dinner. I felt that my youth was privileged compared to his and he was less than a decade older. When I was young, wasting food was considered a heinous act by my parents and some of that has stayed with me. I may be conservative to others, but I do know what it takes to put beef, chickens, rabiits, and so on onto the kitchen table. Back then, I knew what they ate and I knew what I was eating.
Raise some chickens, rabbits, quail, pheasant, turkey, duck, goose and so on, for food when the alternative may be (has been) beans or potatoes and it gets personal real quick when predators help themselves to the food. a farmer friend once told me that obviously I needed to raise enough for both my family and the wild predators. That was well after the beans or potatoes period of my life and I was able to laugh. Wasn’t so funny to me before that.
If you’ve ever read Carlos Castenada’s work, you’ll encounter a part in one of his books, (“Journey to Ixtlan” comes to mind, but I may mis-remember,) where he describes his youth and how he hunted hawks extensively during one period of his life. Before killing hawks became illegal, it was considered a valid activity; especially for hawks big enough to take domestic animals.
Wasn’t wrong then, just isn’t right now.

michael hart
January 26, 2013 3:33 pm

On the subject of extinctions, look at the title of this recent article from the BBC

World’s unknown species ‘can be named’ before they go extinct
By Melissa Hogenboom BBC News

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21162197
But can we name them before we discover them?
Lol.

davidmhoffer
January 26, 2013 3:44 pm

Gail Combs;
Actually it is. Only in my case it is coyotes… This is a friend of my Brother-in-law link My next door neighbor lost his entire heard of goats, another friend a herd of sheep and Pat, a third friend lost all her calves.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
That is the part that the trafamadores and S Meyer’s of the world don’t seem to grasp. It isn’t just that your neighbours lost goats, sheep and calves. It is also that there was less food for human beings as a consequence. The trafamadores of the world don’t get this because they walk into a grocery store any day of the week and the shelves are stocked with food. It never occurs to them that there are places in the world where that simply isn’t true. The western world has enough money to stock those shelves, the third world doesn’t. We live in a global economy and the fact of the matter is that those lost goats, sheep and calves meant that there was less food somewhere in the world, at higher prices, and people went hungry and perhaps died as a consequence.
Every time a tract of land is set aside to protect come species from extinction, that is a tract of land that no longer is being farmed, and for people in the world on the edge of starvation, that means that some of them get pushed over the edge.
I’m not arguing against protecting endangered species, far from it. But at the same time a coyote with a full belly of lamb means a baby dying in its mother’s arms somewhere else in the world. That’s the harsh reality that people like tramafadore casually dismiss. As long as they don’t SEE that baby die, they can pretend it doesn’t happen and that they don’t have anything to do with the misery of others. All they can see is the full shelves when they walk into the grocery store.
Worse, the best way to protect the environment is to do what the western world has done. Raise living standards through the use of cheap energy. Birth rates fall and pressure on the world’s resources falls accordingly. Keep people in poverty, particularly energy poverty, and their birth rate sky rockets, meaning more pressure on earth’s resources, more mouths to feed, and less land left over for the wild life to remain wild. When push comes to shove though, if there isn’t enough food to go around and choices have to be made between feeding humans and letting them starve…. even tramafadore understands she’s rather eat than be eaten, she just doesn’t want to admit it.

Duke C.
January 26, 2013 3:50 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
January 26, 2013 at 10:44 am
“PS—Your citation does provide some good news, in that the population of starlings in the UK is declining as well …”
I can corroborate that. Because they’ve all migrated to my house. I estimate the colony to be 1000+. Every evening, They take over a thicket of cat-tails on my property, not as a dormitory but as a meeting place. A European Starling Woodstock-style convention. They carry on all night with every birdcall possible as they are great parrot-like imitators. They take great entertainment in my occasional evening walks, as I am met with every catcall ,tweet, , twitter and whistle imaginable. Much like Willis faces when he posts an article here.

Gary Hladik
January 26, 2013 4:12 pm

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

Gary Hladik
January 26, 2013 4:40 pm

trafamadore says (January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm): “I think Wills isnt looking for the bodies in the right place…he needs to be on his hands and knees in the Tropics, home to most of the Earth’s species.”
In other words, Trenb–er, trafamadore is saying “The fact is we can’t account for the missing bodies at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”
Maybe the bodies are “in the pipeline”?
No, wait, the missing bodies are in the “deep layer” of the oc–er, jungle. Yeah, that’s it.

Steve P
January 26, 2013 4:44 pm

This news article may be of interest.

The photo marks only the fourth confirmed Illinois sighting of a cougar – also known as a mountain lion, panther, puma or catamount – since the cats were driven from Illinois in the 1870s.
[…]
Today, stories of young males wandering east and south from the Dakotas to states like Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri are relatively common. Missouri regularly reports cougar sightings, although conservation officials in Missouri say no known breeding populations have been established.
In 2011, a young male from the Black Hills of South Dakota made it as far as Connecticut.

http://www.pjstar.com/news/x2053816328/Cougar-photographed-on-trail-in-central-Illinois
White-tailed deer populations began to increase along the Illinois River and surrounding prairie in the late 1980s or so, in about the same time frame when Bald Eagles began to return to the Illinois River Valley in winter. Now Illinois reportedly hosts more wintering Bald Eagles than any state outside Alaska.
~
So far, I haven’t heard any ideas about how chicken farmer plinking, or rancher shooting of raptors also managed to weaken the egg-shells of those that weren’t shot. Brown Pelican eggshells were affected as well, so maybe disgruntled fishermen were shooting them too with those same magic bullets.

Mark Bofill
January 26, 2013 4:54 pm

trafamadore says:
January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm
… But, for mammals (thinking birds too, someone should check) the number is lower, something like 1/M/yr. (Mammal/birds are harder to kill off I guess.) …
——————————————–
Willis titled this post ‘Always trust your gut instinct’. I don’t generally have the balls to do that outside of my own field of expertise. I do however get awfully suspicious when I’m presented with an inconsistent case.
From Willis’s original ‘Where are the corpses?’:
“Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.” (Wilson 1995)”
Yet here you are, after lauding Wilson and arguing that Wilson knows a whole lot more about extinctions than Willis, here you are telling us that mammals and birds are harder to kill off. You guess. The issue isn’t important enough to me to go verify that Wilson really said that. Frankly, Willis has built up enough credibility over time in my eyes that I don’t feel the slightest need to – I’m quite confident Willis isn’t making anything up. He could be wrong (anybody can), but I’m sure he’s not fabricating his evidence.
How about you? Are you just making all this up as you go along or what? Because while I don’t necessarily trust my gut instincts, my B.S. meter is pegged right now, thinking about your argument.

trafamadore
January 26, 2013 5:15 pm

Mark Bofill says “Wilson also wrote, “Some groups, like the larger birds and mammals, are more susceptible to extinction than most.”
Whatever. Look it up. If you find something different from 1 species/M/yr, tell me. The range for most groups, BTW, is from 1 to 10, so I would haf to see the context that Wilson is using.

Jurgen
January 26, 2013 5:46 pm

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

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

M Simon
January 26, 2013 5:51 pm

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