Wide range of extinctions predicted

Thousands of tree and fish species could disappear from the planet in the coming century, according to two alarming new reports from scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Both studies were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first study looks at how deforestation could wipe out rare tree species in the Amazon. According to previously published counts, there are 11,210 known large tree species in the Amazon, 5,308 of which are classified as "rare," with fewer than 10,000 individual trees in existence. Of those rare trees, the study predicts an extinction rate of between 37 and 50% -- 2,000 species or more!

According to the authors, "most of these species have small range sizes and are highly vulnerable to local habitat loss."

Meanwhile, the second study predicts that overfishing and other man-made factors are laying the groundwork for a "mass extinction" of ocean biodiversity. Lead author Jeremy Jackson says the extinctions will include many of the oceans' most recognizable -- and most edible -- fish species.

But there is hope, according to Jackson, who says that if existing fishing regulations were properly enforced, it would stave off many of these extinctions. Jackson is also calling for cutting the consumption of fossil fuels and more careful use of agricultural fertilizers, which create run-off that poisons ocean waters.

Oh, and as if all of that isn't bad enough news, one more study (this one by the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) predicts the possible extinction of African penguins in as little as 16 years. There are just 26,000 breeding pairs in South Africa this year, down from 31,000 last year and 4 million a century ago. Rampant overharvesting of pelican eggs (once considered a local delicacy) was one of the major factors which helped to destroy this once populous species.