From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Species Extinction
Mains level : Mass Extinction
A paper published recently has come up with a new reason behind the first mass extinction, also known as the Late Ordovician mass extinction.
- Extinction is a part of life, and animals and plants disappear all the time. About 98% of all the organisms that have ever existed on our planet are now extinct.
- When a species goes extinct, its role in the ecosystem is usually filled by new species, or other existing ones.
What is Mass Extinction?
- Earth’s ‘normal’ extinction rate is often thought to be somewhere between 0.1 and 1 species per 10,000 species per 100 years.
- This is known as the background rate of extinction.
- A mass extinction event is when species vanish much faster than they are replaced.
- This is usually defined as about 75% of the world’s species being lost in a ‘short’ amount of geological time – less than 2.8 million years.
How many mass extinctions have there been?
Five great mass extinctions have changed the face of life on Earth. We know what caused some of them, but others remain a mystery:
[I] Ordovician-Silurian ME
- It occurred 443 million years ago and wiped out approximately 85% of all species.
- Scientists think it was caused by temperatures plummeting and huge glaciers forming, which caused sea levels to drop dramatically.
- This was followed by a period of rapid warming. Many small marine creatures died out.
[II] Devonian ME
- It took place 374 million years ago and killed about three-quarters of the world’s species, most of which were marine invertebrates that lived at the bottom of the sea.
- This was a period of many environmental changes, including global warming and cooling, a rise and fall of sea levels and a reduction in oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- We don’t know exactly what triggered the extinction event.
[III] Permian ME
- It happened 250 million years ago, was the largest and most devastating event of the five.
- Also known as the Great Dying, it eradicated more than 95% of all species, including most of the vertebrates which had begun to evolve by this time.
- Some scientists think Earth was hit by a large asteroid which filled the air with dust particles that blocked out the Sun and caused acid rain.
- Others think there was a large volcanic explosion that increased carbon dioxide and made the oceans toxic.
[IV] Triassic ME
- It took place 200 million years ago, eliminating about 80% of Earth’s species, including many types of dinosaurs.
- This was probably caused by colossal geological activity that increased carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures, as well as ocean acidification.
[V] Cretaceous ME
- It occurred 65 million years ago, killing 78% of all species, including the remaining non-avian dinosaurs.
- This was most likely caused by an asteroid hitting the Earth in what is now Mexico, potentially compounded by ongoing flood volcanism in what is now India.
What caused first ME?
- The cooling climate likely changed the ocean circulation pattern.
- This caused a disruption in the flow of oxygen-rich water from the shallow seas to deeper oceans, leading to a mass extinction of marine creatures.
- Ordovician Sea has familiar groups like clams and snails and sponges.
- Many other groups are now very reduced in diversity or entirely extinct like trilobites, brachiopods, and crinoids.
The sixth mass extinction
- We are currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction as the result of human-induced climate change.
- There have been several theories behind each mass extinction and with advances in new technologies, researchers have been uncovering more intricate details about these events.
Try this PYQ from CSP 2018
The term “sixth mass extinction/sixth extinction” is often mentioned in the news in the context of the discussion of:
(a) Widespread monoculture Practices agriculture and large-scale commercial farming with indiscriminate use of chemicals in many parts of the world that may result in the loss of good native ecosystems.
(b) Fears of a possible collision of a meteorite with the Earth in the near future in the manner it happened 65million years ago that caused the mass extinction of many species including those of dinosaurs.
(c) Large scale cultivation of genetically modified crops in many parts of the world and promoting their cultivation in other Parts of the world may cause the disappearance of good native crop plants and the loss of food biodiversity.
(d) Mankind’s over-exploitation/misuse of natural resources, fragmentation/loss, natural habitats, destruction of ecosystems, pollution and global climate change.
Post your answers here.