New mathematical model predicts faster extinctions. Much faster.


Endangered species could go extinct 100 times faster than previously thought, according to a paper published in this week's issue of Nature.

According to authors Brett A. Melbourne and Alan Hastings, current mathematical models to predict extinction rates focus too much on events that happen to individuals, such as an ape falling out of a tree and dying, or environmental factors, such as rainfall fluctuations.

But Melbourne and Hastings have come up with several additional factors, including critical information such as gender ratios, size variations within a species, behavioral differences, randomness in births and deaths, and reproductive success. Factoring these variables into their calculations shows a much grimmer picture of species' fate, and suggests that many species could go extinct in "months" rather than the years originally predicted.

The scientists say their model could be used to re-classify numerous species which have previously been considered "threatened" as officially "endangered."

Their research conclusions come from studying beetles in a controlled experiment, but the authors say "the effect we have uncovered here will be larger in natural populations."

Even the IUCN, which publishes the annual Red List of Threatened Species, acknowledges that current extinction models don't show the whole picture. "We are certainly underestimating the number of species that are in danger of becoming extinct," Craig Hilton-Taylor, manager of the IUCN red list unit, told The Guardian,  "because there are around 1.8m described species and we've only been able to assess 41,000 of those."

Why do I get the feeling my job just became much harder?

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