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Module 11: Terrestrial Ecosystems in Peril

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Introduction

Video: Earth 103 Endangered Species Module (1:05)

Click for the video transcript.

Good morning. Today we're at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center Pennsylvania and I'm here to talk about endangered species. When we think about endangered species we don't normally think about birds. But this bald eagle just behind me was recently removed from the endangered list. When we think about birds, the major problem today are domestic and feral cats. In the U.S. each year alone, between two and three billion birds are killed by domestic and feral cats. So obviously this is a massive problem when we translate these numbers globally. In this module, we're going to learn about a number of different endangered species including polar bears, birds, frogs, honeybees, and other groups that are in danger today. We're going to learn that if we continue business as usual CO2 emissions, the problem of endangered species will expand rapidly in the future. Thank you very much.

Imagine this. Martians come back to Earth 10 million years from now to study the apparent disappearance of what is described as a once thriving planet. They find textbooks with diagrams of the geological time scale and its divisions into eras, separated by the main mass extinctions. Then they take cores and sample bones in sediment deposits. What they find is the final mass extinction that took place 9.8 million years before their arrival, and 200,000 years before that, the beginning of a new era, the Anthropocene.

Now the Martian part of this tale is fiction, but sadly the Anthropocene part is not. We have already entered that era and paleontologists and ecologists combined believe that the sixth largest mass extinction event in Earth’s 4.6 billion year history has already begun. Rates of species loss are as high as any other time in the last 65 million years, since the time the dinosaurs went extinct. And without a revolution in our stewardship of the planet we call home, these rates are bound to accelerate in the future.

Terrestrial ecosystems are in peril. Let's make it clear, climate change is not the sole culprit here. Humans have messed with ecosystems in numerous other ways. In this module, we will see how this has happened and what is at stake in the future. We will begin by presenting how extinction happens from a theoretical view. Then we will present one threatened representative from many of the major phyla to observe the impact of human activities on them and attempt to predict their future fate. Finally, we will observe a few “winners” of the loss of global species diversity.