Story at a glance

  • Humans know less about the natural world than they’d like to let on about.
  • This is an issue because our natural world is quickly shrinking.
  • Many people care about the extinction of animal species but are unaware of just how many disappear each year.

How much do you know about the natural world around you? According to a recent survey by SWNS Digital, a majority of people know less than one might assume. 

The results of the survey revealed to researchers some of the common misconceptions that people have about the “shrinking natural world,” like the incorrect assumption that it is more concerning for the environment when an animal goes extinct rather than a plant or insect. According to the survey of 2,000 respondents, approximately 64 percent believed this to be true. 

The survey also revealed that the average person believes that the planet loses 101 species per year to extinction, when in reality the number is actually at least 100 times that amount. 

Beyond the realm of conservation, researchers found through showing respondents a series of animal photos that many people aren’t able to correctly identify animal species, or even whether or not the species truly exists when given their name. 

Only 1 in 2 respondents correctly identified a cheetah, with nearly 10 percent misidentifying the big cat as a “spotted lion,” and one in four referred to a photo of a red panda as a “Himalayan raccoon.” Some respondents confessed that they didn’t know about the existence of the Tasmanian devil, nor the blue-footed booby or golden lion tamarin. 

With so many natural wonders that are quickly disappearing, a majority of participants are worried they’ll miss their chance to see them, and 61 percent expressed concern that certain colors will cease to exist if the species that produce them go extinct.

The consequences of extinction

Whether flora or fauna, the extinction of a species can have detrimental effects on its unique ecosystem, and its loss can prompt cascading effects, called a trophic cascade, through the food chain. 

A publication of Columbia University points out the examples of the effect of wolves in Yellowstone Park, which were hunted until they nearly disappeared by 1930. Their near extinction prompted a trophic cascade within the park, allowing deer and elk to flourish, which caused the grazing animals to wipe out much of the streamside greenery. That greenery not only provided a home to birds, but kept the banks of the stream from collapsing into the water. 

Once wolves were reintroduced to the park in 1995, plant life was consequently able to return to the streamside, and deer and elk populations were naturally controlled by the wolves.

Especially detrimental is the loss of apex species, which are species that are considered to be the top of their food chain. Scientists say that these species, like elephants and sharks, are more vulnerable because of longer life spans and slower reproduction rates. 

Humans continuing to push their way into natural habitats and drive species to extinction is a key reason for the cropping up of new viruses, and the destruction of plant species also narrows down the possible cures for existing ailments. In fact, more than a quarter of prescription medications contain chemicals that were discovered through plants or animals, such as penicillin, which was derived from a fungus. 


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Published on May 08, 2021