In the past century, more than 500 species of land-living vertebrates have disappeared, a grisly milestone that would have taken 10,000 years to pass naturally. That’s the conclusion of a new paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which adds that about 500 more vertebrate species could be lost in the next 2 decades as human activities accelerate extinctions toward a critical tipping point. Researchers found that about 2% of more than 29,000 species of terrestrial vertebrate are critically endangered (such as the rhino pictured above), The New York Times reports. Each animal plays a necessary role in its ecosystem—as predator, prey, or pollinator—and the cumulative losses could mean the disruption of important services we depend on, including clean water, pollination of crops, and disease prevention.
Read our COVID-19 research and news.