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Extinction magnitude of animals in the near future | Scientific Reports – Nature.com

Selection of environmental-biotic events to be studied

In global warming events associated with mass extinctions, the current environmental changes are similar to those recorded during the end-Ordovician, end-Guadalupian, and end-Permian mass extinctions. Therefore, I analyzed global surface temperature anomalies, mercury pollution concentrations, and deforestation percentages in these three mass extinctions and in the current crisis. The asteroid impact at the K–Pg boundary and nuclear war cause the formation of stratospheric soot aerosols distributed globally, thus inducing sunlight reductions and global cooling (impact winter and nuclear winter). I also analyzed stratospheric soot aerosols as a possible cause of future extinctions.

Most likely case and worst case

The most likely case corresponds to the reduction of CO2 emissions resulting from human conduct, the protection of forests, and the introduction of anti-pollution measures in the future under the Paris Agreement on Climate change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The worst case corresponds to the scenario in which humans fail to stop increasing global surface temperatures, pollution, and deforestation until 2100–2200 CE.

I use the average of the RCP4.5 and RCP6.0 cases in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)8 as the most likely case of GHG emissions, representing the middle of the four potential GHG emissions cases (RCP2.6, 4.5, 6.0, and 8.5) in Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC8, approximately corresponding to the middle of SSP2-4.5 and SSP3-7.0 in Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC9. The timing of decreased global GHG emissions is 2060–2080 CE. Therefore, I use the average GHG emissions and global surface temperature anomalies of the RCP4.5 and RCP6.0 cases as the most likely values and those of the RCP8.5 case as the worst-case scenario, marked by stopping GHG emissions from 2090 to 2100 CE8,9, as this case corresponds to the highest GHG emissions8,9.

Surface temperature anomaly, environment, and extinction magnitude data

Data on surface temperature anomalies and extinction percentages are from Kaiho4. Changes in industrial GHG emissions and global surface temperature anomalies are sourced from the Fifth and Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC8,9.

Pollution can be represented by mercury concentrations measured in sedimentary rocks recording mass extinctions8 and in recent sediments deposited in seas and lakes25,26 because mercury is toxic to plants and animals and because its sources include volcanic eruptions, meteorite impacts, and the combustion of fossil fuels10,33, which are common sources of pollutants, and because it can be commonly measured from sedimentary rocks recording mass extinctions33. The mercury concentration is related to the CO2 emission amount during global warming because of the common sources of mercury and CO2 (volcanism and fossil fuel combustion influencing global warming). Thus, the future mercury concentrations are estimated based on the CO2 emission amounts estimated by the IPCC8,9. Since mercury and the other pollutants mainly come from oil, coal, and vegetation33, the amount of mercury released should change in parallel with industrial CO2 emissions because there is a good correlation between mercury and CO2 emissions11.

Deforestation occurs by the expansion of agricultural areas and urban areas, which are strongly related to human populations13,28. Thus, future deforestation percentages are estimated based on estimated future population data27 (Supplementary Table S2). The severity of deforestation in each event is expressed by the occupancy % of the deforested area in the pre-event forest area in (i) the Permian–Triassic transition marked by the largest mass extinction based on plant fossil records24 and (ii) 2005–2015 CE as a representative of the Anthropocene epoch12,13,28 based on the actual forest area relative to the pre-agriculture phase before 4000 BP. Deforestation is related to the human population because agriculture and urbanization have caused deforestation13,28. I estimate the past and future deforestation percentage using human population data in the past and future21 based on the parallel growth of the human population and deforestation13,28.

Amount of stratospheric soot was calculated using a method of Kaiho and Oshima34 (Supplementary Table S1). I obtained global surface temperature anomaly caused by stratospheric soot using Fig. 5 of Kaiho and Oshima34.

I then use those data to estimate the future extinction magnitude based on the assumption that the Earth and contemporary life at the time of each crisis are more or less mutually comparable throughout time and to the present day.

I estimate the magnitude of the species animal extinction crisis between 2000 and 2500 CE using Figs. 1, 2 and Supplementary Tables S1 and S2 in each cause under the most likely case and worst case under three nuclear war scenarios (zero, minor, and major; Fig. 2d)15 in the PETM and mass extinction cases, respectively (Supplementary Tables S3, S4; Fig. 3). Finally, I estimate the magnitude of current animal extinction crisis by the four causes as an average of the species extinction magnitude by the four causes in Fig. 3. I use two different contribution rates of temperature anomalies, pollution, deforestation, and stratospheric soot by nuclear wars, 1:0.2:0.1:1 for marine animals and 1:0.5:1:1 for terrestrial tetrapods (different contribution case considering lower influence of pollution and deforestation to marine animals rather than terrestrial animals) and 1:1:1:1 for marine animals and 1:1:1:1 for terrestrial tetrapods (equal contribution case considering high influence of pollution and deforestation to marine animals via rain and soil erosion) (Supplementary Tables S5S9). These contribution rates are estimated as end-members to show ranges of animal species extinction magnitude (%).

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