(ORDO NEWS) — In fact, species can become extinct more than once. In a biological sense, a species goes extinct when the last animal of a species stops breathing. But they could go extinct a second time, the researchers say.
When a species disappears from our collective memory and cultural knowledge, it dies out in a different way. This second form of extinction – societal extinction – is the subject of a new study that examines just how detrimental this phenomenon can be.
For example, the extinction of society is changing our understanding of the environment and may affect conservation efforts.
Researchers are calling for more efforts to prevent societal extinction because as more species fade from our memory, there is evidence that this is changing our perception of how important it is to protect what remains.
“Social extinction can affect conservation efforts to protect biodiversity because it can reduce our expectations of the environment and our beliefs about its natural state, such as that it is standard or relatively healthy,” says biological systems researcher Josh Firth. from the University of Oxford in the UK.
The researchers looked at dozens of previous studies to determine how society’s extinction occurs, looking for factors such as symbolic or cultural significance, how long ago a species last lived, and how related it was to humans.
Societal extinction usually, but not always, occurs after biological extinction, the researchers note. Sometimes both extinctions can occur at the same time, depending on how well and widely known one or another species is.
One example is medicinal plants. Many of them are likely to become extinct in society, even if they still exist in nature, because over time we have replaced traditional herbal medicines with more modern alternatives, losing knowledge in the process.
Most species – for example, those that are far from civilization, or those that are too small to be seen except through a microscope – have never had a public presence. Meanwhile, for other species, social presence may break with reality after biological extinction.
“Species may remain collectively known after extinction, or even become more popular,” says conservation biologist Uri Roll of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
“However, our perception and memory of such species are gradually transformed and often become inaccurate, stylized or simplified, and also at odds with the real view.”
Take, for example, the Spix macaque, which is now extinct in the wild: In 2013, a Brazilian conservation report interviewed 242 children from the bird’s former habitat, and almost all of them mistakenly believed that the species originated from Rio. de Janeiro due to his appearance in the 2011 animated film “Rio”.
Ultimately, the researchers found numerous links between the extinction of society and the lack of support for biodiversity conservation. In other words, it is important to preserve the memory and records of extinct species in order to understand what has been lost.
The harmful activities of humans and the lack of connection with nature combine to create a debt of society for extinction, the team of researchers concludes – and many more cases of extinction of society are likely to come if nothing is done to prevent them.
“Keeping awareness of species and their threats also has cognitive and emotional implications for humans,” the researchers wrote. “The solution to these problems will require interdisciplinary approaches that go beyond ecology and conservation biology.”
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