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January 21, 2014

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In late 2010 a geological expedition to Antarctica drilled through the Ross Ice Shelf so they could send an ROV under it. What they found was unexpected: Sea anemones. In their thousands they were doing what no other species of sea anemone is known to do — they were living in the ice itself.

Edwardsiella andrillae and its habitat
Image: Daly et al.

Discovered by the ANDRILL [Antarctic Drilling] project, the team was so unprepared for biological discoveries they did not have suitable preservatives and the only chemicals available obliterated the creature’s DNA. Nonetheless Marymegan Daly of Ohio State University confirmed the animals were a new species. Named Edwardsiella andrillae after the drilling project that found it, the anemone was finally described in a PLOS ONE paper last month.

ANDRILL lowered their cylindrical camera ROV down a freshly-bored 270m (890ft) hole, enabling it to reach seawater below the ice. The device was merely being tested ahead of its planned mission retrieving data on ocean currents and the sub-ice environment. Instead it found what ANDRILL director Frank Rack of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a co-author of the paper describing the find, called the “total serendipity” of “a whole new ecosystem that no one had ever seen before”.

The discovery raises many questions. Burrowing sea anemones worm their way into substrates or use their tentacles to dig, but it’s unclear how E. andrillae enters the hard ice. With only their tentacles protruding into the water from the underneath of the ice shelf questions also revolve around how the animals avoid freezing, how they reproduce, and how they cope with the continuously melting nature of their home. Their diet is also a mystery.

Cquote1.svg What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible Cquote2.svg

—Marymegan Daly

E. andrillae is an opaque white, with an inner ring of eight tentacles and twelve-to-sixteen tentacles in an outer ring. The ROV’s lights produced an orange glow from the creatures, although this may be produced by their food. It measures 16–20mm (0.6–0.8in) but when fully relaxed can extend to triple that.

Genetic analysis being impossible, Daly turned to dissection of the specimens but could find nothing out of the ordinary. Scientists hope to send a biological mission to explore the area under the massive ice sheet, which is in excess of 600 miles (970km) wide. The cameras also observed worms, fish that swim inverted as if the icy roof was the sea floor, crustaceans and a cylindrical creature that used appendages on its ends to move and to grab hold of the anemones.

NASA is providing funding to aid further research, owing to possible similarities between this icy realm and Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Biological research is planned for 2015. An application for funding to the U.S. National Science Foundation, which funds ANDRILL, is also pending.

The ANDRILL team almost failed to get any samples at all. Designed to examine the seafloor, the ROV had to be inverted to examine the roof of ice. Weather conditions prevented biological sampling equipment being delivered from McMurdo Station, but the scientists retrieved 20–30 anemones by using hot water to stun them before sucking them from their burrows with an improvised device fashioned from a coffee filter and a spare ROV thruster. Preserved on-site in ethanol, they were taken to McMurdo station where some were further preserved with formaldehyde.

This map shows the location of the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic, and the two known localities for E. andrillae relative to McMurdo Station
Image: Daly et al.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How did you come to be involved with this discovery?

Marymegan Daly: Frank Rack got in touch after they returned from Antarctica in hopes that I could help with an identification on the anemone.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What was your first reaction upon learning there was an undiscovered ecosystem under the ice in the Ross Sea?

MD I was amazed and really excited. I think to say it was unexpected is inaccurate, because it implies that there was a well-founded expectation of something. The technology that Frank and his colleagues are using to explore the ice is so important because, given our lack of data, we have no reasonable expectation of what it should be like, or what it shouldn’t be like.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There’s a return trip planned hopefully for 2015, with both biologists and ANDRILL geologists. Are you intending to go there yourself?

MD I would love to. But I am also happy to not go, as long as someone collects more animals on my behalf! What I want to do with the animals requires new material preserved in diverse ways, but it doesn’t require me to be there. Although I am sure that being there would enhance my understanding of the animals and the system in which they live, and would help me formulate more and better questions about the anemones, ship time is expensive, especially in Antarctica, and if there are biologists whose contribution is predicated on being there, they should have priority to be there.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png These animals are shrouded in mystery. Some of the most intriguing questions are chemical; do they produce some kind of antifreeze, and is that orange glow in the ROV lights their own? Talk us through the difficulties encountered when trying to find answers with the specimens on hand.

MD The samples we have are small in terms of numbers and they are all preserved in formalin (a kind of formaldehyde solution). The formalin is great for preserving structures, but for anemones, it prevents study of DNA or of the chemistry of the body. This means we can’t look at the issue you raise with these animals. What we could do, however, was to study anatomy and figure out what it is, so that when we have samples preserved for studying e.g., the genome, transcriptome, or metabolome, or conduct tests of the fluid in the burrows or in the animals themselves, we can make precise comparisons, and figure out what these animals have or do (metabolically or chemically) that lets them live where they live.

Daly explained how she obtained these images of the anemone’s anatomy.
Image: Daly et al.

Just knowing a whole lot about a single species isn’t very useful, even if that animal is as special as these clearly are — we need to know what about them is different and thus related to living in this strange way. The only way to get at what’s different is to make comparisons with close relatives. We can start that side of the work now, anticipating having more beasts in the future.
In terms of their glow, I suspect that it’s not theirs — although luminescence is common in anemone relatives, they don’t usually make light themselves. They do make a host of florescent proteins, and these may interact with the light of the ROV to give that gorgeous glow.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What analysis did you perform on the specimens and what equipment was used?

MD I used a dissecting scope to look at the animal’s external anatomy and overall body organization (magnification of 60X). I embedded a few of the animals in wax and then cut them into very thin slices using a microtome, mounted the slices on microscope slides, stained the slices to enhance contrast, and then looked at those slides under a compound microscope (that’s how I got the pictures of the muscles etc in the paper). I used that same compound scope to look at squashed bits of tissue to see the stinging capsules (=nematocysts).
I compared the things I saw under the ‘scopes to what had been published on other species in this group. This step seems trivial, but it is really the most important part! By comparing my observations to what my colleagues and predecessors had found, I figured out what group it belongs to, and was able to determine that within that group, it was a new species.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png It was three years between recovery of specimens and final publication, why did it take so long?

MD You mean, how did we manage to make it all happen so quickly, right? 🙂 It was about two years from when Frank sent me specimens to when we got the paper out. Some of that time was just lost time — I had other projects in the queue that I needed to finish. Once we figured out what it was, we played a lot of manuscript email tag, which can be challenging and time consuming given the differing schedules that folks keep in terms of travel, field work, etc. Manuscript review and processing took about four months.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What sort of difficulties were posed by the unorthodox preservatives used, and what additional work might be possible on a specimen with intact DNA?

MD The preservation was not unorthodox — they followed best practices for anatomical preservation. Having DNA-suitable material will let us see whether there are new genes, or genes turned on in different ways and at different times that help explain how these animals burrow into hard ice and then survive in the cold. I am curious about the population structure of the “fields” of anemones — the group to which Edwardsiella andrillae belongs includes many species that reproduce asexually, and it’s possible that the fields are “clones” produced asexually rather than the result of sexual reproduction. DNA is the only way to test this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you have any theories about the strategies employed to cope with the harsh environment of burrowing inside an ice shelf?

MD I think there must be some kind of antifreeze produced — the cells in contact with ice would otherwise freeze.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How has such an apparently large population of clearly unusual sea anemones, not to mention the other creatures caught on camera, gone undetected for so long?

MD I think this reflects how difficult it is to get under the ice and to collect specimens. That being said, since the paper came out, I have been pointed towards two other reports that are probably records of these species: one from Japanese scientists who looked at footage from cameras attached to seals and one from Americans who dove under ice. In both of these cases, the anemone (if that’s what they saw) was seen at a distance, and no specimens were collected. Without the animals in hand, or the capability of a ROV to get close up for pictures, it is hard to know what has been seen, and lacking a definitive ID, hard to have the finding appropriately indexed or contextualized.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would it be fair to say this suggests there may be other undiscovered species of sea anemone that burrow into hard substrates such as ice?

MD I hope so! What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible given their seemingly limited toolkit. This finding certainly expands the realm of possible.



Sister links

  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Edwardsiella andrillae

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June 4, 2009

WHOI sub Nereus explores deepest area of Pacific Ocean

WHOI sub Nereus explores deepest area of Pacific Ocean

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) remotely operated vehicle touched down 10,902 meters (35,767 feet) in the Mariana Trench near the island of Guam.

Location of the Mariana Trench
Image: Kmusser.

On Sunday, May 31, Nereus dove into the Pacific Ocean and began its descent into Challenger Deep the deepest area of the Mariana Trench.

“It’s the deepest known part of the ocean. The trench is virtually unexplored, and I am absolutely certain Nereus will enable new discoveries,” said Andy Bowen, project manager of WHOI, “Reaching such extreme depths is the pinnacle of technical challenges. The team is pleased that Nereus has been successful in reaching the very bottom of the ocean to return imagery and samples from such a hostile world. With a robot like Nereus we can now explore anywhere in the ocean. The trenches are virtually unexplored, and Nereus will enable new discoveries there. Nereus marks the start of a new era in ocean exploration.”

However, this is not the first time that a mission was sent into the trench. In 1998, the Japanese robot Kaiko was launched. In 1960 a two man bathyscaphe vehicle, the Trieste descended 10,916 meters (35,813 feet) to the ocean floor.

Nereus can be operated remotely or it can run as an autonomous underwater vehicle AUV. It is currently attached to the mother ship via an optic tether the diameter of a human hair.

“Much of the ocean’s depths remain unexplored. Ocean scientists now have a unique tool to gather images, data and samples from everywhere in the oceans, rather than those parts shallower than 6,500 meters (4 miles). With its innovative technology, Nereus allows us to study and understand previously inaccessible ocean regions,” said Julie Morris, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Ocean Sciences. NSF assisted with the US$8 million project funding.

Nereus will send videos and collect samples on the ocean floor at the trench’s subduction zone and area during its mission.

“The samples collected by the vehicle include sediment from the tectonic plates that meet at the trench and, for the first time, rocks from deep exposures of the Earth’s crust close to mantle depths south of the Challenger Deep. We will know the full story once shore-based analyses are completed back in the laboratory this summer. We can integrate them with the new mapping data to tell a story of plate collision in greater detail than ever before accomplished in the world’s oceans,” said geologist Patty Fryer of the University of Hawaii.



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Wikipedia Learn more about Nereus, Challenger Deep on Wikipedia.
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April 10, 2009

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launches VORTEX2 to study tornadoes

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launches VORTEX2 to study tornadoes

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Friday, April 10, 2009

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Approximately 100 scientists and students will take part in the Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes Expermiment VORTEX2 project in May to study tornadoes in the central United States along Tornado Alley.

Project Vortex. The Dimmitt Tornado.

One of the unique features of VORTEX2 is that it is mobile, with no fixed base. The large armada will operate from the Dakotas down to Texas, operating in a different area every day as the weather dictates. The project will run between May 10 to June 13, repeating again in 2010 from 1 May until 15 June. 40 research vehicles will use mobile radar, deployable arrays of instruments called Sticknets and Podnets to measure around and inside tornadoes, ten instrumented vehicles, 4 balloon launching vehicles, unmanned aircraft, and other instruments to surround tornadoes and the supercell thunderstorms that form them.

“We have a strong focus on trying to figure out why storms tornado when they do. VORTEX1 made a significant difference. But now we have a lot more technology to make real-time predictions, which can increase warning times.” Louis Wicker, National Severe Storms Laboratory research meteorologist said, “Data collected from V2 will help researchers understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado formation.”

The US$11.9 million project, will help to determine why and how tornadoes initially form and how tornadoes are related to supercell thunderstorms.

Stephan Nelson, National Science Foundation (NSF) program director for physical and dynamic meteorology, whose program is providing the bulk of funding for VORTEX2, said “An important finding from the original VORTEX experiment was that tornadoes happen on smaller time and space scales than scientists had thought. New advances from Vortex2 will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm’s wind, temperature and moisture environment, and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form – and how they can be more accurately predicted,”

Storm chasing NSSL vehicles on Project VORTEX1 equipped with surface measurement equipment.

Researchers from Finland, Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, Environment Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS), ten universities across the US, and the NOAA Storm Prediction Center will take part in the project.

Already in 2009, there have been nine fatalities caused from tornadoes in the US alone.

The VORTEX1 project took place between 1994 and 1995, and was the largest tornado study to date, collecting valuable data that enhanced scientific understanding of tornadoes and tornadogenesis.



Sources

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Wikipedia has more about this subject:
VORTEX projects

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December 25, 2007

No injuries after Antarctica research station support plane crashes

No injuries after Antarctica research station support plane crashes

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Basler BT-67 owned by Kenn Borek Air during a trip to Antarctica. Note that in this image the aircraft’s rear landing gear has been removed for repair purposes.

A Basler BT-67, chartered from Canadian air carrier Kenn Borek Air for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a United States government agency, has crashed whilst attempting take-off during a support assignment in Antarctica. None of the ten people on board were injured, but the modified Douglas DC-3 was substantially damaged in the accident.

The accident occurred on the morning of December 20 local time, about 550 miles from McMurdo Station, a US-run Antarctic base. The aircraft was carrying a crew of four, and six researchers. The flight was part of the Polar Earth Observatory Network project, which is part-funded by the NSF. The project sets up GPS equipment and seismic sensors in various locations across Antarctica, in order to monitor changes in the ice sheets that cover the continent. It is thought that this will aid understanding of global warming.

Although the NSF refused to publicise any details of the crash, one anonymous passenger has come forward about the accident, releasing his account in the form of an online report. According to the passenger, one side of the plane failed to lift off, and the aircraft’s wing subsequently dug into the ice.

“My seat came unbolted from the floor with me still strapped into the seatbelt,” the passenger said. “When we finally came to a halt, we were all in big pile in the corner of the plane with all of the equipment. We got shaken up pretty bad, but there were no major injuries other than some minor cuts and bruises… The wings, props, and tail all got bent up pretty bad. The landing gear, skis, and hydraulic system all were ripped from the plane and strewn about the ice.”

Following the accident, all those on board spent about twenty hours before they were flown back to McMurdo Station on board two Twin Otter aircraft sent from the base on a rescue mission. A full investigation has been launched into the crash by the Department of the Interior’s Aircraft Management Division (AMD), who have signed a memorandum of agreement with NSF to conduct any necessary investigations on their behalf. The AMD have subsequently contacted the United States National Transportation Safety Board, who will participate in conjunction with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.



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November 28, 2007

NASA unveils detailed map of Antarctica

NASA unveils detailed map of Antarctica – Wikinews, the free news source

NASA unveils detailed map of Antarctica

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

High-resolution image of McMurdo Station taken by Landsat 7.

Scientists at NASA have recently released the most detailed map of Antarctica ever. NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite took 10,000 photographs of the continent over a period of two years, from 1999 to 2001. 1,100 pictures were chosen to form the mosaic map. Officially titled the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA), the map reveals Antarctica’s geography in high definition and with accurate colors. Details as small as half the size of a basketball court are visible.

NASA created the map to coincide with the International Polar Year of 2007-2008. Robert Bindschadler, chief scientist of the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, remarked, “This innovation is like watching high-definition TV in living color versus watching the picture on a grainy black-and-white television.” The map represents a tenfold improvement over previous Antarctic imagery databases.

Cquote1.svg This innovation is like watching high-definition TV in living color versus watching the picture on a grainy black-and-white television. Cquote2.svg

—Robert Bindschadler, NASA

Landsat 7 managed to capture 80% of the continent in high definition. While the satellite was not able to take photographs of the South Pole due to its orbit path, lower-resolution images helped fill in the gap.

The map will help scientists plan and carry out expeditions on the notoriously difficult terrain. The new, intensely detailed information will also facilitate the tracking of environmental changes such as the calving of ice shelves. Researchers will be able to use such data to better understand phenomena like global warming in such amazing detail that even relatively small changes will be visible. Geologists, on the other hand, will be able to use the maps to study Antarctic rock formations.

Comparison of the same Antarctic landscape taken by the older MODIS instrument in lower resolution (left), and the newer Landsat 7 satellite (right).

The LIMA images are available to the public via the internet. The National Science Foundation contributed nearly US$1 million to create the website.

The Landsat 7 satellite will continue to document Antarctica from space through to 2011. Subsequently, NASA will launch the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. Information from both projects will update the map.



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February 28, 2007

New South Pole Telescope to study dark energy

New South Pole Telescope to study dark energy

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The new South Pole Telescope has recently collected its first light in a long-term project to learn about the nature of dark energy. It will use the cold and dry conditions in Antarctica to detect cosmic microwave background radiation, which is said to be the afterglow of the Big Bang. The study will help determine if dark energy affected the development of galaxy clusters. Most of the $19.2 million funding for the telescope came from the National Science Foundation.

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March 8, 2006

Largest mass extinction in 65 million years underway, scientists say

Largest mass extinction in 65 million years underway, scientists say

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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

MEGAFAUNA: Extinct – diprotodonts were hippopotamus-sized marsupials.

Environmental scientists say they have concrete evidence that the planet is undergoing the “largest mass extinction in 65 million years”. Leading environmental scientist Professor Norman Myers says the Earth is experiencing its “Sixth Extinction.”

Scientists forecast that up to five million species will be lost this century. “We are well into the opening phase of a mass extinction of species. There are about 10 million species on earth. If we carry on as we are, we could lose half of all those 10 million species,” Myers said.

If we do not do more, Myers says, the planet will continue to lose around 50 species per day compared to the natural extinction rate of one species every five years. He projected this rate in the late 1980s to much criticism, but the figure is now widely accepted by scientists. “The whole thing is taking place in what you might call a flickering of an evolutionary eye,” said Myers. “It’s hard to keep up with unless we damp down on some of the causes of the evolution.”

Hotspots

GLOBAL WARMING: Graph shows global mean surface temperatures 1856 to 2005

The Australia Museum’s Frank Howarth says “There are over 30 extinction ‘hotspots’ across the globe. He says up to 80 per cent of crucial habitat has been wiped out. Biodiversity hotspots are areas that have more than 1500 endemic plant species and which have lost more than 70per cent of original habitat.” Hotspots feature, according to Myers, “exceptional concentrations of species that are found nowhere else in the world.”

Evidence shows that insects, which account for more than half the described species on earth, are disappearing faster than birds. “Many areas of Australia’s ecosystems depend on the work of insects… we put a lot of effort into looking at these hotspots, about what insects actually occur there, whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing, because they tell us a lot more about some of the high level effects,” Howarth said.

Myers argues that we are destroying the Earth’s biodiversity quickly enough to witness the beginning of a mass extinction of species—one of only six such events in the Earth’s history. He says around 30 hotspots contain the last remaining habitats of at least half of Earth’s land surface.

He says more parks and reserves are needed, and while warnings are desperate, he believes the situation can be turned around. “We would be the first generation in the whole of human history since we came out of our caves to tackle a mass extinction head on and cancel it… and if we do, I think people will cheer for us from thousands of years ahead.” Myers projects that safeguarding the hotspots would cost one billion dollars per year.

Where are the frogs?

EXTINCT: The Golden Toad of Monteverde, Costa Rica was among the first casualties of amphibian declines. Formerly abundant, it was last seen in 1989.

The Global Amphibian Assessment, an international convention of amphibian biologists, indicated in 2004 that over a third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened, making them the most threatened group of animals on the planet. More than 120 species have likely become extinct since the 1980s, and around two-thirds of the South American harlequin frog species vanished in the 1980s and 1990s. The decline of amphibians in protected habitats has puzzled conservation biologists for nearly 20 years.

Recent research suggests that climate change may be driving widespread frog extinctions. Results of a study published in the January 2006 Nature journal reveal how warming alters a fatal skin fungus affecting frogs. The article says hundreds of species around the world are teetering on the brink of extinction or have already become extinct.

“Disease is the bullet that’s killing the frogs,” said J. Alan Pounds, the study’s lead scientist from the Tropical Science Center in Costa Rica. “But climate change is pulling the trigger. Global warming is wreaking havoc on amphibians, and soon will cause staggering losses of biodiversity,” he said.

According to the study, rising temperatures favor the chytrid fungus, which seems to kill frogs mostly in cool highlands or during winter—implying that low temperatures make it more deadly. National Science Foundation program director Sam Scheiner said their study “demonstrates the complex nature of global climate change, including how climate affects the spread of disease, and why these must be integrated if we are to understand and reduce threats to species extinctions.”

Scheiner says the message goes beyond amphibians: “global warming and the accompanying emergence of infectious diseases are a real and immediate threat to biodiversity and a growing challenge for humankind.”

“The Sixth Extinction”

OVERHUNTING: American bison skull heap. There were as few as 750 bison in 1890 due to overhunting.

Scientists are warning that by the end of this century, the planet could lose up to half its species, and that these extinctions will alter not only biological diversity but also the evolutionary processes itself. They state that human activities have brought our planet to the point of biotic crisis.

In 1993, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that the planet is losing 30,000 species per year – around three species per hour. Some biologists have begun to feel that the biodiversity crisis dubbed the “Sixth Extinction” is even more severe, and more imminent, than Wilson had expected.

Professor Myers and colleague Andrew H. Knoll say that what we do now will define a course for evolution. In their 2001 American Institute of Biological Sciences report, Myers and Knoll forecast that the effects of a Sixth Extinction will leave gene pools so depleted that species may not bounce back. Species such as rodents and cockroaches that have adapted to human environments will dominate.

Niles Eldredge in his paper The Sixth Extinction says that with the high rate of extinction, there is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that the biosphere is currently facing a mounting, unprecedented loss of species.

Whilst previous mass extinctions were due to natural environmental causes, research shows that wherever on Earth humans have migrated other species have become extinct. Human overpopulation especially in the past two centuries is said to be the underlying cause of the Sixth Extinction.

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Wikipedia Learn more about the ongoing Holocene extinction event on Wikipedia.
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