50 of the world’s most endangered species
Humans are very good at a lot of things. But our greatest, most terrible skill may be making other species go extinct. Our planet has already begun its sixth mass extinction cycle, according to many scientists, with species across the globe dying off at an alarming rate. In the last century, animals have gone extinct 100 times faster than the normal "background" rate. That means the global rate of extinction, which should have taken 800 to 10,000 years, occurred in just 100.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps track of how endangered a species is with its authoritative Red List of Threatened Species. The global organization cites factors like residential and commercial development, climate change, and energy production as the reasons species become endangered, and tracks species populations from year to year. There are currently over 30,000 species around the world threatened by extinction, according to IUCN's findings, representing almost 30% of all assessed species. Specifically, those numbers represent about 41% of all amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef corals, 30% of sharks and rays, 27% of crustaceans, 25% of mammals, and 14% of birds.
Stacker consulted the Red List to find species deemed “critically endangered” or “extinct in the wild” across four major biological kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, and Chromista. Read on to learn about these fascinating species that may not be long for this world—and what, if anything, can be done to protect them.
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Species: Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)
Called “the most endangered marine mammal,” the vaquita has seen a dramatic drop in population numbers from more than 500 in 1997 to under 20 in 2017. The five-foot-long porpoises live in the Gulf of Mexico and were only discovered in 1958. They’ve been brought to the brink of extinction primarily by illegal fishing. Fishing nets often accidentally trap and kill vaquitas, which share the waters with other fish deemed valuable by the Chinese market. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita was established in 1997 to study and protect this small porpoise.
Species: Starry breck lichen (Buellia asterella)
Mostly found in western European dry grasslands at low elevation, this variety of lichen (a cross between fungi and algae) is now only found in three or four locations around the globe. The number one cause of its vulnerability is habitat change and destruction, which accounts for its low numbers in Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
Species: Great Orme berry (Cotoneaster cambricus)
First recorded as abundant in 1783, there are now only 17 wild plants of this rose relative left in Wales, thanks to plant collectors and grazing by animals like rabbits, sheep, and feral goats. In Welsh, it’s called “Creigafal y Gogarth,” which translates to “rock apple of Gogarth.” If the Great Orme berry disappears, humans will never again know the taste of its yellow pear-shaped berries that turn reddish-orange when fully ripe.
Species: Galapagos stringweed (Bifurcaria galapagensis)
Before 1983, Galápagos stringweed was a type of algae readily found in the Galápagos Islands and beyond. Since then, it has virtually disappeared. The major culprit seems to be El Niño and associated climate change. The IUCN will reassess the alga in the next five or ten years; if no further specimens are discovered, they plan to label it completely extinct.
Species: Black clubshell (Pleurobema curtum)
In the river waters of Alabama and Mississippi, this mussel is holding on for dear life—unless, of course, it’s already gone. Listed as “possibly extinct,” there hasn’t been a live specimen discovered in at least a decade. Dredging and sediment shifting as a result of the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway appears to be the most logical factor in the disappearance of the black clubshell.
*Image of Pleurobema riddellii
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Species: Rove beetle (Atheta caprariensis)
The rove beetle’s habitat barely takes up a five-square-mile forest patch of the small Azore island chain off the coast of Portugal. They live underneath tree bark and in the soil, and as nocturnal predators, they hunt for sustenance at night. As changes in the Azores economy dictate changes in the way land is used, the rove beetle’s habitat continues to be threatened.
Species: Boreal felt lichen (Erioderma pedicellatum)
Species: Tropical acidweed (Desmarestia tropica)
El Niño is to be blame for the decimation of this Galápagos alga. Found in only two locations and not seen since 1972, there’s a high likelihood that tropical acidweed is extinct. The cold water species is not at all amenable to rising sea temperatures.
Species: Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis)
One of the rarest fish in the world, the Devils Hole pupfish can only be found in a single limestone pool in one of the hottest places in America: Devils Hole, a 93°F offshoot of the Death Valley National Park in Nevada. The pupfish is just an inch long, and while their habitat is fenced in for protection, their pool is still subject to human interference—which is said to be the main cause for their population decrease.
Species: Fitzroy Falls crayfish (Euastacus dharawalus)
This freshwater crayfish is indigenous to the state of New South Wales in Australia, specifically Fitzroy Falls in the Wildes Meadows Creek. There are upwards of 600 mature crayfish of the species, but the introduction of fish like rainbow trout and carp into the area for recreational purposes represents a major problem for the crustaceans, who have to contend with new predators.
*Image of Euastacus bispinosus Clark
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