(NaturalNews) Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley (UC-B) say that, unless human abuses of the earth cease, there could be a large "mass extinction" event involving the loss of 75 percent of life on earth. Their findings, which have been published in the journal Nature, attribute habitat destruction, the spread of new diseases, and the introduction of non-native species, among other things, as the primary causes of an alleged upswing in animal extinction rates within the past 500 years.
"It looks like modern extinction rates resemble mass extinction rates, even after setting a high bar on defining mass extinction," said Prof. Anthony Barnosky, lead study author from UC-B. "If currently threatened species -- those officially classed as critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable -- actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as three to 22 centuries."
The team compared what they found to be various fossil records, some of which show that at least 80 species of mammals have become extinct within the past five centuries. Compared to previous centuries this number is significantly higher, they say, which indicates that the extinction rate is on the rise. But the team also said that the problem is not irreparable.
"So far, only one percent to two percent of all species have gone extinct in the groups we can look at clearly," said Barnosky. "So by those numbers, it looks like we are not far down the road to extinction. We still have a lot of earth's biota to save."
Barnosky and his team are urging that more resources be devoted to conservation efforts, and that legislation be introduced to help protect endangered species. Their study was funded by the US National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences.