Wednesday Word of the Week: extinction

extinction [ik-stingk-shuhn] n.  process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth (National Geographic Education).
Throughout history, species have come and gone.  Remember the dinosaurs?  Well, maybe not, seeing as they were gone from this planet over 50 million years before humans (or a hominid ancestor) set foot on it.  
The process of extinction is complex, and involves various factors.  In ecology and biology, extinction is considered the end of an organism, namely, a species.  It occurs when the last member of that species dies off, and the reproductive cycle can no longer continue. Throughout history, various extinctions have taken place, primarily caused by natural, planetary occurrences.  But in recent history, humans have had an ever-increasing presence on planet Earth, one that has lead hundreds of species to the brink of, and ultimately on to, extinction.
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 Photo courtesy of Michelle Schmidt, MyShot.

The latest notable extinction occurred on Monday, as the giant tortoise “Lonesome George” of the Pinta Island subspecies of Galapagos tortoise passed away at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador, where he was residing.  George is estimated to have been around 100 years old, although scientists are not sure of his exact age.  

Lonesome George and his subspecies exemplify the struggle faced by endemic species as their land is encroached upon by human settlement.  As settlers brought goats onto Santa Cruz Island in the mi-20th century, the herds quickly ate up much of the available vegetation, ridding the tortoises of much needed food.  Unable to survive under the conditions, the subspecies was actually thought extinct until George was found in 1971.
Species extinction as a result of human influence is not unique to islands or tortoises.  In fact, ten notable recently extinct animals were all a result of hunting or human interference with the species’ environment.  Even in the mainland of the Americas live various endangered species on the brink of extinction.

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Proper management and wise use of natural resources is imperative to preventing further species extinction.  Various studies point to an increasing risk of extinction among threatened and endangered species, such as TIME’s recent report on Ten Species Near Extinction.  NG Education offers a wealth of resources to teach about this issue.
NG Education Collection: Endangered Species 
NG Education Encyclopedic Entry: Endangered Species 
NG Education & NG Channel Video: Survival of the Fittest
Photo courtesy of Tom Battee, MyShot.

– Justin Fisch for National Geographic Education

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