Frontiers of Knowledge Award to two Mexican ecologists for quantifying the extent of the sixth major extinction event

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and conservation biology In its 16th edition, the prize was awarded to two Mexican scientists who helped document and quantify the extent of the so-called Sixth Great Extinction, the massive loss of biodiversity caused by human activities.

Gerardo Ceballosof National Autonomous University of Mexico and Rodolfo Dirzofrom Stanford University (USA), are “researchers at the forefront of ecology and conservation science,” said the jury, whose joint work in Latin America and Africa “has shown that current extinction rates for many organisms are much higher than those.” that have emerged in the last two million years.”

In this way, by documenting the rampant Disappearance of animals and plants In some of the most biodiverse habitats on earth, both have helped to make clear that the current biodiversity crisis is – as the ruling emphasizes – “a period of particular acceleration in global species loss”. world and for all groups of organisms, and the first to be directly linked to the effects of a single species: ours.”

The two award-winning ecologists are leaders in the study of so-called defaunation

In particular, the two award-winning ecologists are leaders in research into the so-called Defaunation, a term coined by Dirzo that describes the changes leading to the disappearance of animals in the structure and functioning of ecosystems. Their work – it is highlighted in the award ceremony – has demonstrated the destructive “chain effects” that the extinction of a species can cause by disrupting the network of its interactions with other organisms, as well as its impact on the human population through the loss of the resources they provide Goods and services.

Her research has helped provide “the necessary scientific basis” to promote the adoption of evidence-based conservation measures.

“The experimental work of Professors Ceballos and Dirzo has quantified the rate of species loss,” he explains. Pedro Jordano, Research Professor at the Department of Integrative Ecology of the Doñana-CSIC Biological Station and Secretary of the Jury. “And what’s really surprising about their results is the speed of species extinction, the so-called process Defaunation, is now happening at a rate several orders of magnitude faster than the rate documented over the last two million years. “This shows that we are facing a truly alarming situation that award-winning researchers have documented and quantified across thousands of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant species.”

The experimental work of Professors Ceballos and Dirzo has quantified the rate of species loss

Pedro Jordano from EBD

On his part Miguel Bastos Araujo, Research professor in the Department of Biogeography and Global Changes at the National Museum of Natural Sciences-CSIC in Madrid and member of the jury, underlines the importance of the winners’ work with an analogy: “Let’s imagine that we are traveling by plane and sit next to us the window. As we look through it, we see parts of the plane coming loose. This does not happen immediately, but the first thought that goes through the passenger’s mind is: what is the capacity of this aircraft to continue flying without the parts that compose it? Something similar happens with ecosystems. Because they lose theirs Parts, species, also lose vital functions. “Dirzo and Ceballos’ work contributes significantly to understanding how these losses impact the resilience and sustainability of our ecosystems.”

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Extinction rate accelerated by humans

Ceballos and Dirzo’s research has been interconnected and complementary throughout almost their entire professional careers. However, the origins of this collaboration date back to the early 1980s, when the two met at the University of Wales (UK).

There, Dirzo earned his doctorate while Ceballos completed his master’s degree. His first contacts came as his concerns about man’s impact on nature became increasingly apparent. “We began to have conversations not only in the field of science, but also shared concerns about what we were already seeing around us in terms of anthropogenic impacts on the natural environment,” recalls Dirzo.

After this phase, Ceballos directed his research towards studying the fauna and the extent of extinctions, and Dirzo focused on studying the ecological interactions between plants and animals and the consequences of these extinctions.

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