If present global warming trends continue, the number of plant and animal extinctions we've witnessed over the past few years could be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A new study to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has suggested that rising temperatures could spark a wave of mass extinctions, claiming close to half of all species.
The team of scientists from the University of York and the University of Leeds studied the relationship between biodiversity and the climate over the last 520 million years and uncovered a disturbing trend - namely that during greenhouse climate phases, extinction rates rose dramatically. The converse - that biodiversity surged during so-called "icehouse" climate phases - held true. In fact, 4 of the planet's 5 mass extinctions were found to be linked to climatic regimes characterized by abnormally high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane - the largest ever wiped out 95% of all species 251 million years ago.
"Our results provide the first clear evidence that global climate may explain substantial variation in the fossil record in a simple and consistent manner. If our results hold for current warming - the magnitude of which is comparable with the long-term fluctuations in Earth climate - they suggest that extinctions will increase," said Peter Mayhew, a co-author on the paper and a population ecologist at the University of York.
While the severity of the extinction event may differ from the researchers' estimates, there is no denying that - bar some rapid action on our part - the trends we're seeing now could prove to be just the beginning of a long, downward spiral. That's not to say we can't (or won't) curb it; we just don't have time to dither around anymore.
Via ::Guardian Unlimited: Warming could wipe out half of all species (news website)