Extinction has always been a fact of life. The recent history of the past few hundred years records the destruction of hundreds of species of plants and animals, including the great auk, dodo and passenger pigeon. The American bison was pulled back from the brink of extinction when there were only a few hundred left alive, out of a population that numbered 40 million. "During a single five year period (1870- 1875), buffalo hunters slaughtered 2.5 million of them yearly. Ecologists Paul and Anne Erlich in their book Extinction, state that 98% of all species that have ever lived have become extinct. There are approximately 10 million species alive on the Earth today, of which only 1.5 million have been discovered and given scientific names. Many are now being exterminated before they are even discovered, particularly in the tropical rain forests, which are rich in diverse life forms. Paleontologists have documented several mass extinctions, which wiped out the majority of life on Earth, allowing new forms to radiate and develop. One such "mass dying" occured after the Cambrian period, eliminating the once-numerous trilobites. Another, is the famous and much-pondered Cretaceous extinction which ended the 140-million-year reign of the dinosaurs as the dominant form of life and ushered in the Age of Mammals. Man's acceleration of the extinction of contemporary species is accompanied by habitat destruction and industrial poisoning, which prevents new speciation. There is serious scientific concern that humans may destroy the ability of the planet to support life. If so, the human species itself may become extinct, as did other hominids whose skeletal remains we study. No doubt, they didn't imagine such an outcome was possible any more than we do.
CATASTROPHISM | SOUTHERN AFRICA'S THREATENED WILDLIFE | FUNKY DINOSAUR ARTICLES | PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM at TWENTY: A PALEONTOLICAL PERSPECTIVE. by Donald R. Prothero Ph.D. | LASCAUX | THE BURGESS SHALE FOSSIL BED | EVOLUTION LINKS | THE DINOSAURIA | MAZON CREEK FOSSILS | ARCHAEOPTERYX: AN EARLY BIRD.