Earth’s sixth mass extinction event has begun, study warns

19 Dec 2022

Image: © dannyburn/

New research predicts that more than a quarter of the world’s animals and plants could go extinct by the end of the century.

Earth has entered its sixth mass extinction event, with severe loss of animal and plant life expected by the end of the century, according to a new study.

To look at the potential impact the climate crisis could have on various species, researchers developed a synthetic model of Earth on one of Europe’s most powerful supercomputers.

This model predicts that the Earth will lose roughly 10pc of all animal and plant life by 2050, with this figure growing as high as a potential 27pc by 2100, based on the outcomes of various climate scenarios.

The research was led by European Commission scientist Dr Giovanni Strona and Prof Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia.

The model of Earth contained more than 15,000 food webs to simulate the interconnected fate of species that will likely disappear from the climate emergency and changes in land use.

Bradshaw said the study is significant since it was able to illustrate co-extinctions, which is when one species goes extinct due to the loss of other species it depends on.

“Think of a predatory species that loses its prey to climate change,” Bradshaw explained. “The loss of the prey species is a ‘primary extinction’ because it succumbed directly to a disturbance. But with nothing to eat, its predator will also go extinct.”

The research team said its model was able to have various virtual species move to new regions as the climate changed, as well as adapt to some of the changing conditions.

But Strona said the model left “no doubt” that the climate crisis is “directly responsible” for most primary and co-extinctions.

In all climate scenarios, it was responsible for the most “substantial fraction of local extinction events”, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances.

“Essentially, we have populated a virtual world from the ground up and mapped the resulting fate of thousands of species across the globe to determine the likelihood of real-world tipping points,” Strona said.

Bradshaw added that factoring in co-extinctions raises the total extinction rate of the most vulnerable species by up to 184pc by 2100.

“Children born today who live into their 70s can expect to witness the disappearance of literally thousands of plant and animal species, from the tiny orchids and the smallest insects to iconic animals such as the elephant and the koala, all in one human lifetime,” Bradshaw said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic