Is Earth in first stages of a mass extinction?

World is facing its sixth mass extinction and the nightmare of 'biological annihilation'

The research also found more that 30 per cent of vertebrate species were declining in size or territorial range.

Now two years on, two of the ecologists behind that paper - Gerardo Ceballos, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University - have made a more urgent call, based on an assessment co-authored with Ehrlich's Stanford colleague Rodolfo Dirzo.

Conservatively, scientists estimate that 200 species have gone extinct in the past 100 years; the "normal" extinction rate over the past 2 million years has been that two species go extinct every 100 years because of evolutionary and other factors.

The study explained that even species in relatively low danger have had an overall shrinking population and that humans should be wary of continued extinctions and shrinking populations. And more than 40 percent of the mammals are undergoing "severe population declines" as defined by the loss of more than 80 percent of their range.

According to scientists, it is perfectly clear that our planet is entering a terrifying sixth mass-extinction event which means, in short, that 75% of all species that inhabit Earth will disappear in the next couple of hundred years. The same applies for billions of animal populations.

In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, biologists from Stanford University and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México investigated the health of Earth's vertebrate population and described their findings as "biological annihilation". Human life as we know it relies on an increasingly strained ecological balance, and may be impossible if biodiversity is reduced too much.

Wildlife is dying because of habitat destruction, poaching, pollution and climate change, the researchers said. He believes that, sadly, it will take a long time to humanely begin the population shrinkage required if humanity is to survive, but he noted that much could be done on the consumption and with "band-aids" -such as wildlife reserves- in the meantime. Ceballos said an worldwide institution was needed to fund global wildlife conservation.

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Ehrlich and his colleagues reached those conclusions by taking the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's data on populations of 27,600 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians and overlaying those figures on a grid of 22,000 plots measuring 10,000 square kilometers across all of the continents. The last, between the Cretaceous and Peleogene periods 65 million years ago, killed the dinosaurs. "A huge majority of the population of lions has gone", say the authors.

The team also considers that this is just a "prelude" to the sixth mass extinction.

Pimm also said there were important caveats that result from the broad-brush approach used. "The massive loss of populations is already damaging the services ecosystems provide to civilisation". "What are the drivers that cause the declines in particular areas?" The study says the losses are indicative of the planet's "ongoing six major extinction events" and has cascading consequences for human life on Earth.

"But we need to act to save humanity and by saving many other species the...evolution will be less dramatic than if we continue destroying everything", he said. The cause is humans wanting stuff.

Modifying diets can play a crucial role, said the review. His message remains blunt today: "Show me a scientist who claims there is no population problem and I'll show you an idiot". The cause was probably a severe ice age. Then soon after the ice melted leaving the oceans starved of oxygen.

Climate change is poised to become a major threat in the coming decades, with some animals - most famously polar bears - already in decline due to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns.

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