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A species becomes extinct when the last existing member dies.

Extinction therefore becomes a


certainty when there are no surviving individuals that are able to reproduce and create a new
generation. A species may become functionally extinct when only a handful of individuals
survive, which are unable to reproduce due to poor health, age, sparse distribution over a large
range, a lack of individuals of both sexes, or other reasons. In ecology, extinction is often used
informally to refer to local extinction, in which a species ceases to exist in the chosen area of
study, but still exists elsewhere. This phenomenon is also known as extirpation. Local extinctions
may be followed by a replacement of the species taken from other locations; wolf reintroduction
is an example of this. Species which are not extinct are termed extant. Those that are extant but
threatened by extinction are referred to as threatened or endangered species.
An important aspect of extinction at the present time are human attempts to preserve critically
endangered species, which is reflected by the creation of the conservation status "Extinct in the
Wild" (EW). Species listed under this status by the International Union for Conservation of
Nature (IUCN) are not known to have any living specimens in the wild, and are maintained only
in zoos or other artificial environments.
The extinction of one species' wild population can have knock-on effects, causing further
extinctions. These are also called "chains of extinction". This is especially common with
extinction of keystone species.

Causes
As long as species have been evolving, species have been going extinct. It is estimated that over 99.9%
of all species that ever lived are extinct. The average life-span of most species is 10 million years,
although this varies widely between taxa. Most simply, any species that is unable to survive or
reproduce in its environment, and unable to move to a new environment where it can do so, dies out
and becomes extinct. Extinction of a species may come suddenly when an otherwise healthy species is
wiped out completely, as when toxic pollution renders its entire habitat unliveable; or may occur
gradually over thousands or millions of years, such as when a species gradually loses out in competition
for food to better adapted competitors. Currently, environmental groups and some governments are
concerned with the extinction of species caused by humanity, and are attempting to combat further
extinctions through a variety of conservation programs. Humans can cause extinction of a species
through overharvesting, pollution, habitat destruction, introduction of new predators and food
competitors, overhunting, and other influences. Explosive, unsustainable human population growth is
an essential cause of the extinction crisis.According to the International Union for Conservation of
Nature (IUCN), 784 extinctions have been recorded since the year 1500 (to the year 2004), the arbitrary
date selected to define "modern" extinctions, with many more likely to have gone unnoticed (several
species have also been listed as extinct since the 2004 date).