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Planet Earth

The Dog That Didn’t Bark In the Night

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerMarch 22, 2004 9:05 PM

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Last week I wrote about an important new study showing that three very different groups of species--plants, butterflies, and birds--have all been declining at the same alarming rate for over 40 years in Great Britain. The authors concluded that if the pattern is global, it may mean that we are entering one of the biggest bouts of mass extinctions in the past 500 million years. The media handled the story pretty well, although some reports got ahead of the science. Here's a story that may give you the impression that the study documented the extinction of entire species, for example. The researchers only recorded the extinction of a few species in Britain, which can still be found elsewhere. But many populations of plants, birds, and butterflies are in rapid decline. Species are made up of populations, which means that if populations keep declining for a few more decades, the species can't survive for very long. I've also been searching for criticisms, but to my surprise I can't find a single mention of the study in outlets that have attacked these sorts of studies in the past. Could it be that these folks are hoping that this study just disappears if they don't call attention to it? Or are they at a loss for a rhetorical trick to misrepresent the findings? Or do they accept that this may be a sign of a sixth pulse of mass extinctions, but is simply not worthy of commentary? If anyone has found such a response, please let me know.

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