Not since 66 million years ago has the Earth seen such a rapid mass exodus of species, only this time the extinction event is caused by humans. Could fungi help to lessen the impact of this harrowing event?

Paul Stamets, the much beloved mycologist, posted to this important article published in Environmental Sciences which puts to rest any remaining doubt that our planet is presently in the midst of its sixth mass extinction event:

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES: Accelerated modern human-induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.

Gerardo Ceballos, 1* Paul R. Ehrlich, 1 Anthony D. Barnosky, 3 Andres Garcia, 4 Robert M. Pgle, 5 Todd M. Palmer6

The oft-repeated claim that Earth’s biota is entering a sixth ‘mass extinction’ depends on clearly demonstrating that current extinction rates are far above the ‘background’ rates prevailing in the five previous mass extinctions. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticised for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis. We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimise evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.” [emphasis added]

What is unique about our present-day mass extinction event is that it is human-caused (termed by scientists ‘anthropoecene defaunation’ or literally ‘human-caused animal decline’), whereas in the Earth’s previous five extinction events they are believed to have resulted from natural disasters such as giant meteor strikes.

Everything Is Not Lost!

There is a silver lining to the fact that the Earth’s 6th great extinction event is human-caused: namely, if we created the conditions that is causing it then we should also have the collective power to help undo at least some of them.

All we have to do is to look at modern agricultural practices, including GM farming techniques, to observe the extent at which we are destroying biodiversity, on both micro- (microbial life) and macro- (flora and fauna) levels. For instance, it is no mystery that mono-culturing, i.e. growing only a very select number of plants on massive tracts of land, requiring the destruction of all competing plants and insects and animals that could damage or consume them, is contributing to the mass exit of species from this planet. Clearly, the way we chose to produce and consume food is a primary driver in either progressing or decelerating (and perhaps reversing) the extinction event we are presently experiencing. The implication is that if we focus on developing sustainable agricultural practices (e.g. biodynamic, permaculture, and otherwise truly organically based farming practices) we will slowly but surely change the deadly course we are on and stimulate the regeneration of the biosphere.

Paul Stamets: Let’s Set Off A MycoRevolution To Heal The Planet!

Paul Stamet offers additional suggestions as to how to mitigate the 6th extinction:

A Few Ways Fungi Can Help Lessen Eimpact of 6x Extinction:

• Fungi decompose dead material and return nutrients to the food web
• Through decomposition, fungi create and thicken soils
• Fungal networks multi-directionally distribute nutrients to diverse communities
• Fungi select microbiomes leading to flora growth and fauna support
• Fungi increase moisture carrying capacity
• Fungi prevent erosion
• Fungi break down toxins
• Mushrooms are good, healthy substitutes for meat
• Biodiversity increases
• Zoonotic diseases are kept at bay
• Microclimates are created

Paul concludes:

“Fungi hold the key! We need a mycorevolution on a grand scale. What can you do? Foremost: Celebrate decomposition! As a first step, get lots rotting on your property.

For more info: See Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
Paul Stamets. Earthling.