London, March 8 (ANI): One of the world's experts on biodiversity has warned that humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve.
According to a report in the Guardian, the expert in question is Simon Stuart, chair of the Species Survival Commission for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
"Measuring the rate at which new species evolve is difficult, but there's no question that the current extinction rates are faster than that; I think it's inevitable," said Stuart.
The IUCN created shock waves with its major assessment of the world's biodiversity in 2004, which calculated that the rate of extinction had reached 100-1,000 times that suggested by the fossil records before humans.
No formal calculations have been published since, but conservationists agree the rate of loss has increased since then, and Stuart said it was possible that the dramatic predictions of experts like the renowned Harvard biologist E O Wilson, that the rate of loss could reach 10,000 times the background rate in two decades, could be correct.
Only 869 extinctions have been formally recorded since 1500, however, because scientists have only "described" nearly 2m of an estimated 5-30m species around the world, and only assessed the conservation status of 3 percent of those, the global rate of extinction is extrapolated from the rate of loss among species which are known.
In this way, the IUCN calculated in 2004 that the rate of loss had risen to 100-1,000 per millions species annually - a situation comparable to the five previous "mass extinctions" - the last of which was when the dinosaurs were wiped out about 65m years ago.
According to Stuart, the IUCN figure was likely to be an underestimate of the problem, because scientists are very reluctant to declare species extinct even when they have sometimes not been seen for decades, and because few of the world's plants, fungi and invertebrates have yet been formally recorded and assessed.
In addition to extinctions, the IUCN has listed 208 species as "possibly extinct", some of which have not been seen for decades.
Nearly 17,300 species are considered under threat, some in such small populations that only successful conservation action can stop them from becoming extinct in future.
This includes one-in-five mammals assessed, one-in-eight birds, one-in-three amphibians, and one-in-four corals. (ANI)