What is the Holocene Extinction Event?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Holocene extinction event is a term used to refer to the ongoing extinction of numerous animal species due to human activities. It is named after the geologic period of the Holocene, which began 11,550 years ago (about 9600 BC) and continues to the present. The Holocene extinction has eliminated between 20,000 and several hundred thousand species over the course of the last 12,000 years. The Holocene extinction is composed of two major pulses: one pulse 13,000 to 9,000 years ago, during the end of the last glacial period, when much of the Pleistocene megafauna went extinct, and a recent pulse, starting around 1950, when mass deforestation and other human activities have resulted in the extinction of many species.

The Stellar  Sea Cow, which has gone extinct, was a relative of the manatee.
The Stellar Sea Cow, which has gone extinct, was a relative of the manatee.

Animal species extinct from the first pulse of the Holocene extinction include several species of mammoth, the dire wolf, short-faced bear, cave lion, cave bear, cave hyena, dwarf elephants, giant swan, giant rat, mastodon, American cheetah, ground sloths, marsupials of many species, numerous giant flightless birds, and many other animals. Most scientists are in agreement that these animals went extinct due to human activity, as many of them disappear within 1,000 years of the introduction of humans to an area. Some of the most precise findings are from evidence in Australia and the Americas, which were relatively isolated until the arrival of humans.

The dodo became extinct during the latest Holocene extinction pulse.
The dodo became extinct during the latest Holocene extinction pulse.

Animals that have gone extinct recently, during the latest pulse of the Holocene extinction, include the dodo, aurochs (a large type of horned cattle), the tarpan (a small horse), the Tasmanian Tiger, the quagga (a zebra relative), Steller's Sea Cow (relative of the manatee and Dugong), the giant Aye-aye (a nocturnal primate), the Great Auk (a penguin-like bird from the Atlantic region), the passenger pigeon (with about five billion birds in North America, was formerly one of the most numerous birds on the planet), the Golden Toad of Costa Rica, and many others. Biologists agree that the current extinction rate of animal species is several hundred times higher than the typical background level.

The Tasmanian tiger became extinct during the Holocene.
The Tasmanian tiger became extinct during the Holocene.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Sport hunting in the US supports the conservation of animals and habitat. Hunters support and fight to protect wildlife and the environment by careful monitoring and management. People may dislike the fact that there is lawful hunting, but the fact remains that hunters truly care about, protect and defend the environment and care about wildlife. Unfortunately, there are many people, who do not understand this about hunting. Likewise, many people do not understand forest management principles for conserving the forest lands.

Forest management is important in keeping our forests. It is necessary at times to clear-cut and clean out areas to prevent massive fires. California is proof of these needs. Annually, it burns, and annually people blame the environmental changes, which are true; however, complaining about it doesn't prevent it; active management does. We need to work together rather than just blame others. This Holocene extinction is real. Working together to mitigate what we can is essential. Blaming and whining does nothing. Over hunting does happen, but hunters in the US will be the first to step forward to support conservation and mitigation of the issues locally.

I am a scientist and I share these concerns, but I am most concerned about how we approach this in our efforts. Rather than attack, we must take a moderate empathetic approach and develop alternatives for people, especially when the consumption of animals/plants and the like are essential in a people's existence. Well-intentioned people often create more problems than they solve because they are so passionate, yet short-sighted in their understanding of how to create solutions. Once again, identifying a problem isn't the problem, solving the problem, coming up with a win-win solution is the answer. Thank you for your passion. Apply it wisely, please. Cricket.


And to think we call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens -- wise wise man.


The clear reality that presents itself is 2-fold:

1. the earth is alive, evolves, and continues to die as do all other forms of life.

2. as the earth is continuing the life cycle humans are participating in its evolution.

So, do we want to help the earth live longer?

Or do we accelerate the natural process?

Earth has been around for over 4.5 billion years! Without humans destroying it, it will last another 4.5 billion years, but not as the Earth does today.


anon16360, the holocene epoch is the one we are currently in. greenhouse gases wouldn't be a problem if we stopped killing all the trees that breathe those gases in. most humans are so sad and pathetic


Someone wrote that "global warming is the best thing that ever happened to humans." sure, you can say that if you think that catastrophic consequences on the both the human race and animal life is a good thing. Global warming is causing many more animal species to become endangered, and worldwide climates to change. Our environment is being altered negatively as a result of it, and you say it's a good thing?


Whoever said that humans aren't the "evil creatures" that are killing off all our biodiversity needs to look at all the facts. Why is it that this upcoming mass extinction is occurring so much faster than the last five, now that humanity is spreading and hunting down any "undesirable" or "profitable" species? Whether we like it or not, we are evil because we hunt for fun and to win money. We don't care that most of our animals are on the brink of extinction. We are the reason our world is in danger of both a 6th mass extinction and global warming. Unfortunately, we are causing this holocene event, and in order to prevent it from causing any more harm, we need to realize that we are the problem, and for once, think of the earth before our own greedy needs. Why is it that so many people refuse to believe that we are slowly killing our earth?


and in spite of these events there are people who continue to "sport hunt".


first of all, I love your web site...interesting, useful...

so my criticism really comes as an impulsive response to the article on holocene die off as caused by man. this would be, how do you say in geek terms, a theoretical construct. the thing is it makes man in some underlying way the evil creature on the planet that these other creatures died off. hey life is hard and then you die.

also, i just formulated my own theory. the holocene die off allowed man to move into places he had not been able to occupy before. in other words, it is because something caused the extinctions. perhaps global warming. i mean it appears to have caused every bad thing in existence to today. i know what your geek will say, man caused the global warming back in the holocene and that is why the ice age melted away.

You know, global warming is the best thing that ever happened to humans...any way it has to be a theory what the geek wrote. Frankly, i don't think a geek would write such an easily contradicted theory. only an environmentalist would. so that leads to the question, are you truly geeks or environmentalists that hate humans and are disguised as geeks.

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