False Alarm: Extinction Of Millions Of Species ‘Greatly Exaggerated’

  • Date: 28/01/13
  • Louise Gray, The Daily Telegraph

Reports of the extinction of millions of species on Earth have been greatly exaggerated, a team of scientists has said. In the past scientists have warned that up to five per cent of species are at risk of dying-out as a result of climate change, deforestation and development.

But a new analysis by the University of New Zealand found that this figure was five times greater than reality because the number of animals living in the wild in the first place had been over estimated.

Extinction of millions of species 'greatly exaggerated'

This meant that conservationists assumed that rates of decline were much faster, as they were starting from a higher point.

In fact the rate of extinction is much slower, with just one per cent of animals in danger of dying out globally.

Writer Mark Twain famously responded to the news that his obituary had appeared in the New York Journal by saying: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers calculate that there are around five million species of plants and animals on Earth, of which 1.5 million have been named.

This is far fewer than some other estimates, which put the figure as high as 100 million.

If a habitat is thought to contain more animals than it does, this can easily lead to a mistaken idea of how quickly they are disappearing.

Finding 500 members of a species in a population estimated to top 1,000 would indicate a more than 50 per cent decline.

But if the population was actually 500 in the first place, the loss rate falls to zero.

Professor Mark Costello, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said that globally, around one per cent of species are likely to be vanishing per decade rather than the five per cent figure some experts have proposed.

“Our findings are potentially good news for the conservation of global biodiversity,” said lead scientist

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