The woodland bison from West Virginia, Merriam’s elk from Arizona, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper: These are some of the roughly 1,000 animals that have gone extinct over the last 500 years. And, the way things are going, they won’t be the last. Scientists say the rate of extinction is quickening as a result of climate change, habitat loss, and the introduction of non-native species. One estimate showed we could lose 15%–37% of all species by 2050.
The graphics here–produced by the Discovery Channel for its series Racing Extinction–show the toll so far. You can see how there were four times as many extinctions in the 1900s than the 1800s, that North America accounts for 37% of extinctions so far, and that a staggering 27,000 species are in danger of becoming extinct.
The interactive graphic shows how the extinct animals are related. In the outer ring are the phylums, the broadest taxonomic rank of the animal kingdom. In the middle are species, a group of animals with common and specific characteristics. For example, there’s the Jackieburchi land snail, which is thought to have become extinct in about 1980 because of the introduction of the “carnivorous wolf snail.” Species introduction caused almost 40% of extinctions among mollusks, the data shows. With other types of animal, the causes are more varied, with “habitat loss” being the most important.
The disappearance of a few obscure snails and parrots may not seem like a big deal. But, as scientists remind us, biodiversity is key to an ecosystem’s resilience and productivity. Ultimately, when we lose an animal, we lose a cog in a wider machine–a machine that even us humans–we’re animals, too, remember–depend on.BS