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Humans Increasing the Rate of Extinction by 1000-Fold

May 29, 2014 04:24 PM EDT

Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct, and we have only ourselves to blame. The rate of extinction is increasing 1,000 times faster than before humans inhabited the planet, and now the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study indicates.

After looking at past and present extinction rates, researchers found lower rates in the past than previously thought. As it turns out, species are dying off 10 times faster than biologists had believed.

"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," lead author Stuart Pimm of Duke University told the Associated Press - one that is comparable to that which wiped out the dinosaurs. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."

There have been five massive extinctions in Earth's history, the worst of which occurred 250 million years ago when 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species died off, The Independent reported. It took millions of years to recover.

The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, revealed that the pre-human rate of extinctions on Earth was about 1, compared to the current "death rate" that is about 100 to 1,000.

Humans are altering Mother Earth in far-reaching ways: hunting animals, tearing down swaths of rainforests and pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the worst way in which we've contributed to extinction is via habitat loss.

Although, albeit somewhat ironically, modern day technology may offer some hope.

"Online databases, smartphone apps, crowd-sourcing and new hardware devices are making it easier to collect data on species," Pimm noted, according to "Technology is increasingly allowing scientists and policymakers to more closely monitor the planet's biodiversity and threats to it."

Once biologists know where endangered species are they can try to save habitats and use captive breeding and other techniques to save the species, researchers said.

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