Plant and animal species are going extinct thousands of times faster than normal due to human activities, reports a new study. However, new technologies can make it easier to protect endangered species, researchers conclude.
Duke University investigators say that smartphones, crowd-sourcing and hardware advances are making data collection on endangered species easier.
"When combined with data on land-use change and the species observations of millions of amateur citizen scientists, technology is increasingly allowing scientists and policymakers to more closely monitor the planet's biodiversity and threats to it," Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, said.
Conservation science has been radically changed by the advent of new technologies, including Internet-connected communication devices and social media. Pimm conducted this latest research, examining the role humans play in extinctions, and how technology affects the process.
"We start by asking how many species are known and how many remain undescribed. We then consider by how much human actions inflate extinction rates. Much depends on where species are... Biomes also suffer different levels of damage and have unequal levels of protection. How extinction rates will change depends on how and where threats expand and whether greater protection counters them," researchers wrote in the article announcing the study.
One of the challenges facing conservation scientists is learning how many species worldwide remain to be discovered. Without that information, it is impossible to determine how quickly the animals are disappearing.
Animal types normally diversify faster than they go extinct, and by studying DNA, researchers are able to use this fact to map relationships between species. This allowed the team to establish an average "background rate" of one disappearance for every 10 million species each year. The current rate is 1,000 times faster, which some researchers believe represents the sixth greatest extinction in the history of the Earth.
Pimm is also co-director of SavingSpecies.org, which provides high-quality maps, showing where endangered species are located. These are developed and provided to supply information on endangered animals to local government and private organizations, directing conservation efforts.
"For our success to continue, however, we need to support the expansion of these technologies and the development of even more powerful technologies to come," Pimm stated in a press release.
Around 13 percent of land areas worldwide are now protected by some means, while only 2 percent of oceans are under watch.
There remains a large gap in knowledge about the biodiversity of the planet, but technology is assisting researchers in the quest to save species.
Study of how human actions are affecting extinction rates and how technology could help protect plants and animals was published in the journal Science.