The extinction of plant or animal species from extreme environmental change increases the risk of an “extinction domino effect” that could annihilate most of life on Earth , says Professor Corey Bradshaw from Flinders University in Australia, in response to the UN report.
The domino effect is triggered when an organism dies out because it depends on another doomed species.
Previous modelling of global-warming scenarios shows that because all species are connected in the web of life, even the most tolerant species ultimately succumb to extinction when the less-tolerant species on which they depend disappear.
In the case of global warming, the combination of intolerance to heat combined with co-extinctions mean that 5-6 degrees of average warming globally would be enough to wipe out most life on the planet.
Thus, the IPBES reported extinctions of 5% with 2 degrees of warming, and 16% with 4 degrees of warming underestimate global extinctions by between 6 and 14 times.
It’s vital not to underestimate the impact of co-extinctions. Failing to take co-extinctions into account underestimates the rate and magnitude of the loss of entire species from events like climate change by an average of 10 times.
Professor Corey Bradshaw - Professor of Global Ecology at Flinders University.
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