With six billion humans and counting – and our individual consumption growing – we face enormous challenges in using our natural resources sustainably. And there is one clear measure of how we perform at that task: extinction rates. For this reason, some colleagues and I have calculated the rate at which bird species became extinct in the recent past and the rate at which they will likely become extinct in the future.
Bird extinctions are our best window onto humanity’s massive and irreversible environmental impact. For every one of the world’s 10,000 bird species, there may be 10 or perhaps even 100 other unknown species of animals, plants, or fungi. Birds’ popularity means that they provide an unrivaled source of information about which species live where and how well those species are doing.