Learning more about life on planet Earth

Biologists recently found a strange monkey in the Amazon. They didn’t know the unusual titi monkey, with its bright red beard and tail, even existed.

Biologists recently found a strange monkey in the Amazon. They didn’t know the unusual titi monkey, with its bright red beard and tail, even existed.

Researchers also found what they believe to be a massive river running 6,000 kilometres underneath the Amazon River. The underground Hamza River is 200 to 400 kilometres wide, whereas the Amazon ranges from one to 100 kilometres wide.

These are just two examples of how much we have yet to learn about our planet.

As for the plants and animals that share our home, a recent study — “How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?” — suggests that of the estimated 8.7 million species on Earth, 86 per cent on land and 91 per cent in the oceans have not been described by scientists. And describing just means identifying and naming.

It doesn’t mean we know anything about population numbers, geographic distribution, what they eat, how they reproduce, or their relationship with other species.

Authors of the study, published in the scientific journal PLoS Biology, argue that understanding the range of biodiversity in our world is crucial to conservation. In many cases, plants and animals are going extinct before we even know of their existence. “We know we are losing species because of human activity, but we can’t really appreciate the magnitude of species lost until we know what species are there,” study co-author Camilo Mora said.

As well as the titi monkey, other animals recently discovered include a small African antelope, a bacterium that consumes iron-oxide on the sunken Titanic, an underwater mushroom, a jumping cockroach, and a “prehistoric” eel found in a cave in the Pacific Ocean. The eel has so many unusual features, including a second upper jaw, that it has been classified as a new species belonging to a new genus and family.

And, several species that were thought to have been extinct have since been rediscovered. However, researchers say this doesn’t mean they have recovered. Pretty much all of them are still at risk of extinction. In fact, 92 per cent of all amphibians and 86 per cent of all birds and mammals are believed to be facing extinction, and tens of thousands of species are being wiped out every year.

Many factors are at play in this biodiversity crisis, but most are related to human activity. Habitat destruction and conversion of land for agriculture and development are big ones. The spread of invasive species, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and climate change are also major contributors to what some scientists are calling the sixth great extinction.

Unlike the previous mass extinctions, this one is human-caused. But the history of these extinctions should also tell us something. Nature and the planet are resilient. They bounce back after major crises, but — and this is crucial — not until the cause of the extinction or crisis has dissipated. This means we humans are putting ourselves on a path to extinction.

The way out is to recognize that we are a part of the natural world and not something that stands outside of it. We absolutely depend on all that nature provides for our existence.

Conservation efforts are essential. These will help plants and animals become more resilient to climate change, but they can also help slow climate change. For example, forests absorb and store carbon, so protecting them not only helps the plants and animals that live in them, it also helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We can’t and needn’t give up hope, though. Thanks to the work of scientists and other thinkers, we learn more about our world every day.

 

Just Posted

Active police incident in Langford prompts police to request nearby residents stay inside

West Shore RCMP ask public to avoid Station Avenue and Peatt Road area

New sidewalk, bike lane coming to Metchosin Road near Royal Bay

Gablecraft Homes making improvements, moving offices

City of Victoria to hold formal safety review after man was left hanging from raised bridge

More and more people seen ignoring safety measurements in place, city staff say

The Trading Post in Langford is up for sale

For sale sign and retirement sign spotted Tuesday

CRD holding off repairing Sooke Potholes viewing area after winter landslide

Area likely to experience continued failure of slope, officials say

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

POLL: Do you use a food delivery app?

With modern life becoming more hectic with each passing day and so… Continue reading

Vancouver Island teacher suspended for professional misconduct

Grade 8 shop teacher admits to use of vulgar language and profanities toward students, parents

Northern B.C. double homicide, suspicious death: A timeline of what we know

Two teens from Port Alberni are now wanted Canada-wide in connection to the three deaths

B.C. wine industry legend Harry McWatters dies

Among his accomplishments, McWatters founded the province’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate

Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

J34 was found more than two years ago near Sechelt, but the necropsy findings have now been released

B.C. rail crossing death highlights risks for people in wheelchairs: watchdog

Transportation Safety Board points to ‘persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices’

B.C. teens wanted in double homicide, suspicious death spotted in Manitoba

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were thought to have been seen in the Gillam area

Most Read