In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jeffrey McKee of Ohio State University explores the connection between human population growth and the rising rate of species extinction.
Jeffrey McKee is a professor of anthropology at Ohio State University where he conducts research on hominid evolution and paleoecology. His current interests focus on computer modeling and simulation of evolutionary and fossilization processes. He earned his Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis.
Dr. Jeffrey McKee – Human Population and Animal Extinction
Right now there are over 7 billion people on this planet, and our population is still growing dramatically. Every day we add about 214,000 people to the planet. Keep in mind that is the net gain of 214,000 people, births minus deaths.
Meanwhile there is an equally profound trend for other species on this planet – they are going extinct at the highest rate since the extinction that wiped out most dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In the geological past, Earth has witness five mass extinction. There is little scientific doubt that we are now in a sixth mass extinction.
It turns out that these two trends, human population growth and extinctions of plants and animals, are closely related. In the year 2000, we gathered data from 144 nations on human population densities and the number of threatened species of mammals and birds, and found a close correlation. We derived an equation that predicted the number of threatened species based on just two variables, population density and the number of species present in each country. In 2010, we revisited that equation with updated data, and found that we had accurately predicted the rise in the number of threatened species.
Should these trends hold, they paint a dire picture for our future. The average nation should expect a rise of nearly 11% more threatened species by 2050. This is on the basis of human population growth alone, not counting factors such as global climate change which will exacerbate the extinction problems.
If we are to minimize the consequences of the mass extinction we are in, conservation efforts must continue and even expand, but it is now clear that all conservation must factor in the effects of our growing human population.