Modern Examples of Extinctions

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


No species lives forever, and extinction is the ultimate fate of all living species. The fossil record indicates that a recent extinction wave affecting terrestrial vertebrates was parallel with the arrival of modern humans to areas formerly uninhabited by them. These modern instances of extinction started at around 40,000 years ago. On continents, large mammals (especially those >50kg body mass) were affected, while on islands, birds suffered most. The causes of these extinctions are still debated but hunting, habitat alteration and the introduction of non-native species are among the main causes of extinction. Extinction is rarely a phenomenon that concerns a single species at a time. Most species have others closely associated with them (symbionts, obligate parasites, specialist consumers), and these inevitably follow their host/prey into extinction. Our knowledge about extinctions is very incomplete, due to bias in research by taxonomy (vertebrate groups are better studied), geography (northern areas have received more attention), habitat (terrestrial habitats are better known than marine ones), as well as biological reasons (certain groups do not fossilize) and methodological problems (methods of excavation and identification). Consequently, we can only crudely estimate the current rate of extinction. Nonetheless, it is evident that humans generated a new mass extinction, affecting most species in all habitats, and, by the time it has run its course, it will potentially surpass the previous five mass extinction events in the history of the Earth. This article only deals with examples of extinction in the Quaternary period (from the final period of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Biodiversity : Vol. 6: Ecology Processes
EditorsSamuel M. Scheiner
Number of pages11
PublisherAcademic Press
Publication date2023
ISBN (Print)9780128225622
ISBN (Electronic)9780323984348
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Abundance
  • Australia
  • Extinction cascade
  • First-contact extinctions
  • Hawaii
  • Invasions
  • Islands
  • Madagascar
  • New Zealand
  • Postglacial extinctions
  • Predation
  • Rarity
  • Species life spans

Cite this