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Some species thought to be extinct may simply be “lost”


That is, they haven’t been seen by anyone in more than 50 years. But are they really gone for good?

Researchers reviewed information on 32,802 species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List) and identified 562 lost species. Their findings appear in the journal Animal Conservation.

The IUCN Red List defines extinct as ‘when there is no reasonable doubt the last individual of a species has died,’ which can be challenging to verify. According to Simon Fraser University biodiversity professor and study co-author Arne Mooers, the Red List categorizes 75 of these 562 lost species as ‘possibly extinct.’ The researchers note the existence of many species with an uncertain conservation status may become increasingly problematic as the extinction crisis worsens and more species go missing.

A total of 311 terrestrial vertebrate species have been declared extinct since 1500, meaning 80 per cent more species are considered lost than have been declared extinct.

Reptiles led the way with 257 species considered lost, followed by 137 species of amphibians, 130 species of mammals and 38 species of birds. Most of these lost animals were last seen in megadiverse countries such as Indonesia (69 species), Mexico (33 species) and Brazil (29 species).

While not surprising, this concentration is important, according to researchers. “The fact most of these lost species are found in megadiverse tropical countries is worrying, given such countries are expected to experience the highest numbers of extinctions in the coming decades,” says study lead author Tom Martin from the UK’s Paignton Zoo.

Mooers, who anchored the study, says: “While theoretical estimates of ongoing ‘extinction rates’ are fine and good, looking hard for actual species seems better.”

Simon Fraser University, “Lost or extinct? Study finds the existence of more than 500 animal species remains uncertain” at Eurekalert (May 19, 2022)

The paper has “limited shared access.”

Apart from loss of habitat due to human encroachment, it would be interesting to know whether there is much study of patterns that govern extinctions — that is, natural extinctions. Paleontologist David Raup (1933–2015) wrote quite a good book on the topic, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck in 1991 but it’s not clear how much has been done since then.

While we’re here:

A species of moth, not seen since 1912, was found inside a passenger’s luggage at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection found larvae and pupae from the moth last September inside a bag arriving from the Philippines.

Sheri Walsh, “Moth last seen 110 years ago found at Detroit airport” at UPI (May 18, 2022)

The moth larvae and pupae were destroyed, as a potential agricultural pest.

You may also wish to read: At Mind Matters News: Did small brains doom the mammoth and the giant armadillo? Before we decide, let us hear a word in defense of small brains. The topic is not as simple as many think.


Extinction (or maybe not): New Scientist offers five “Lazarus species”

Some hand-waving here: There are thought to be perhaps 10 million species at present (give or take). Over geological time, supposedly 99% of species have gone extinct, suggesting one billion species ever. Life with identifiable "species" has been around perhaps one billion years (+/- a factor of two). Thus the average life of a species is 10 million years. Thus, roughly one species per year has gone extinct over geological time. In the past 100 years, expect 100 extinctions (plus or minus). Using Polistra's numbers (assuming he is talking extinctions), we get 1.7 extinctions per year. This is within the range of uncertainty, so I agree with him (if that is what he is saying). Yes, some extinctions are human caused (the dodo and passenger pigeon come to mind), but surely not all of the recent ones. Fasteddious
It's interesting that on the one hand we are told that 99% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct, while on the other hand conservationists speak as if aside from human activity, extinction is a rare event. EvilSnack
Just look at the number, separate from the concept. 562 + 311 = 873 'things' in 500 years is NOT a crisis. That's less than two 'things' per year. It's hard to imagine any other life-related number that moves at such a glacial pace. The count accelerates in recent times because we've been trying harder and harder to find extinctions in recent times. But we HAVEN'T been trying harder and harder to find the 'lost', because that's not where the money is. Good old Dillinger. polistra

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