New research suggests that the Earth could be headed toward its sixth mass extinction, citing a “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades.
Analyzing both common and rare species, scientists found that over-consumption and human overpopulation has contributed to the loss of billions of regional and local wildlife populations.
Published in the National Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS), the study found that this disappearance of wildlife signifies a "frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization."
"The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language," study leader Professor Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México told the Guardian.
For years, conservationists have been warning that the continued destruction of habitats could bring about an extinction similar to that which wiped out the dinosaurs.
According to one 2015 study published in Science Advances, even using the most conservative figures, the rate at which vertebrates are going extinct is higher now than it was in the last five mass extinctions.
"Our analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years," the study reads.
Researchers found land mammals have lost 80 percent of their range and that thousands of species experiencing dwindling numbers aren’t classified as endangered, meaning they aren’t afforded the same protections that threatened species are.
This and other findings led researchers to feel that the next extinction could be further along than previously thought.
"The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences.
Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe," the scientists concluded.
"All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life."