Fri, Jul 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Biodiversity crisis looms, scientists say

MASS EXTINCTION Top researchers are calling for a global panel to advise governments on how to stop an alarming loss of species around the world

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Kylea Lewis, 16, sits in a refrigerator to stay cool while taking a break from life-guarding at the Oakland Community Pool in Topeka, Kansas, on Tuesday. Weather officials extended a heat advisory through yesterday in the eastern half of the state.

PHOTO: AP

The Earth is on the brink of a "major biodiversity crisis" fueled by the steady destruction of ecosystems, a group of the world's most distinguished scientists and policy experts were to warn yesterday.

Nineteen leading specialists in the field of biodiversity, including Robert Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank, and Georgina Mace, director of the Institute of Zoology, are calling for the urgent creation of a global body of scientists to offer advice and urge governments to halt what they call a potentially "catastrophic loss of species."

Destruction of natural habitats and climate change are causing species to die out at 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate, leading some scientists to warn we are facing the next mass extinction.

Nearly one-quarter of the world's mammals, one-third of amphibians and more than one-tenth of bird species are threatened with extinction. Climate change alone is expected to force a further 15 percent to 37 percent of species to the brink of extinction within 50 years.

Writing in the journal Nature yesterday, the experts from 13 countries call for the new body, the international mechanism of scientific expertise on biodiversity (IMOSEB), to be set up to force better biodiversity policies globally.

"We are on the verge of a major biodiversity crisis. Virtually all aspects of diversity are in steep decline and a large number of populations and species are likely to become extinct this century," the authors write.

"Despite this evidence, biodiversity is still consistently undervalued and given inadequate weight in both private and public decisions," they say.

The new body will be modeled loosely on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collection of top climate scientists that is convened to assess the latest research on climate change and its potential implications.

In May, the World Conservation Union said the number of known threatened species stood at 16,119. Polar bears, desert gazelles and sharks were all added to the list of species facing extinction. Melting ice caps, hunting and over-fishing were identified as the culprits.

"Whether it's forests, marine systems, grasslands, you name it, they are in disrepair," Watson said. "For the sake of the planet, the biodiversity science community has to create a way to get organized, to coordinate its work across disciplines, and together with one clear voice advise governments on steps to halt the potentially catastrophic loss of species already occurring."

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