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Science. 2004 Mar 19;303(5665):1879-81.

Comparative losses of British butterflies, birds, and plants and the global extinction crisis.

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Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Dorset Laboratory, Winfrith Technology Centre, Dorchester DT2 8ZD, UK.


There is growing concern about increased population, regional, and global extinctions of species. A key question is whether extinction rates for one group of organisms are representative of other taxa. We present a comparison at the national scale of population and regional extinctions of birds, butterflies, and vascular plants from Britain in recent decades. Butterflies experienced the greatest net losses, disappearing on average from 13% of their previously occupied 10-kilometer squares. If insects elsewhere in the world are similarly sensitive, the known global extinction rates of vertebrate and plant species have an unrecorded parallel among the invertebrates, strengthening the hypothesis that the natural world is experiencing the sixth major extinction event in its history.

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