e., Alroy, 2000 and Alroy,
2008), however, have called into question whether all of these mass extinctions are truly outliers and substantially different from the continuum of extinctions that have been on-going for hundreds of millions of years. Multiple mass extinctions have occurred over the course of earth’s history, but they are relatively rare, poorly defined, and often played out over millions of years. The one exception is the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (a.k.a. the K-T boundary event), when ∼76% of the world’s species went extinct within a few millennia (Renne et al., 2013). Most scientists implicate a large asteroid impact ca. 65.5 mya as the prime driver for this mass extinction, characterized by the disappearance of non-avian dinosaurs and the dawn of the age of mammals. The Big Five concept has become such an engrained part of the geologic and other sciences
that some scholars use the term “sixth extinction” to characterize Olaparib selleck products the current crisis of earth’s biological resources (e.g., Barnosky et al., 2011, Ceballos et al., 2010, Glavin, 2007 and Leakey and Lewin, 1995). Long before the formal proposal to define a new Anthropocene Epoch (Zalasiewicz et al., 2008), a variety of scientists identified post-industrial humans as the driving force behind the current and on-going mass extinction (e.g., Glavin, 2007 and Leakey and Lewin, 1995). Clearly we are currently living through a mass extinction event. Calculations suggest that the current rates of extinction are 100–1000 times natural background levels (Vitousek et al., 1997b and Wilson, 2002). Some biologists predict that the sixth extinction may result in a 50% loss of the remaining plants and animals on earth, which might trigger the collapse of some ecosystems,
the loss of food economies, the disappearance of medicinal and other resources, and the disruption of important cultural landscapes. The driving force of this biotic crisis can be directly tied to humans, and their propensity for unchecked population growth, pollution, over-harvesting, habitat alteration, and translocation of invasive species (Vitousek et al., 1997a and Vitousek Acyl CoA dehydrogenase et al., 1997b)—changes Smith and Zeder (2013; also see Smith, 2007) refer to as human niche construction. If we are living during the next great biotic crisis and it is directly tied to human agency, the question becomes when did this mass extinction process begin? Even those who have proposed to formally designate an Anthropocene Epoch beginning at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution (ca. AD 1800) or the nuclear era of the 1960s (e.g. Crutzen, 2002, Steffen et al., 2007, Steffen et al., 2011 and Zalasiewicz et al., 2008) acknowledge the evidence for widespread impacts of pre-industrial humans in archeological and historical records. They recognize a wide range of “pre-Anthropocene Events,” including the acceleration of plant and animal extinctions associated with human colonization of new landscapes (Steffen et al.