It would be inaccurate to say Earth is dying. But life is changing here at a pace seldom seen, sorting winners from losers in a game of evolutionary speed chess. We are living the lightning round.
We know for certain that many of our plants and animals—from the smallest bugs to the largest elephants—are swiftly being relegated to history in what scientists are calling the sixth great extinction. However, this mass die-out is the first caused by a single species (us) rather than a natural disaster like the asteroid that cancelled the dinosaurs. (Though it’s still on a smaller scale: We’ve dusted about 10 percent of extant species in the last 20,000 years, while the asteroid bagged 75 percent.)
As humans have conquered the globe, we’ve been shadowed by plants, bugs, and critters that have hitched their futures to ours. We expand their ranges, and when they arrive with us in a new place, the predators and competition they evolved alongside aren’t there to keep their populations under control. In many cases, these invaders go nuts—causing harm to their new neighbors.
Extinction via out competition is nothing new. Survival of the fittest has been driving life on Earth to ever-greater complexity for 3.5 billion years. But the reason for this newest wave ought to give us pause, and a push to act: What’s happening here isn’t really natural, and we are responsible. We can’t turn back the clock on invasive species, but we can try to hold the line.
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