Plant, bird and butterfly species dwindling in the United Kingdom, researchers report

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Two new studies of U.K. flora and fauna offer some of the first comprehensive evidence that species diversity is decreasing in the United Kingdom. The findings support the hypothesis that the world is experiencing a mass extinction on par with the other five mass extinctions that have punctuated the history of life.

Until now, this hypothesis has rested on data representing a relatively small portion of the world's plants and animals. Population information about insects, which make up approximately 50 percent of all known species, has been particularly sparse.

"One of the very obvious flaws in this argument was that it was an enormous extrapolation based on the best available evidence at the time," said author Jeremy Thomas of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorchester.

The two reports, which used data collected by scientists and thousands of volunteers scouring the U.K. countryside, now provide a thorough census for much of U.K. wildlife. The studies appear in the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

"These results are by far the most detailed estimates we have for declines in the distributions of multiple species from major different groups of organisms," said Andrew Sugden, an ecology expert and Science's international managing editor.

In their study, Thomas and his colleagues analyzed six surveys covering virtually all of the United Kingdom's native plant, bird and butterfly populations over the last 40 years. Although the results varied for individual species, each group of organisms showed some overall declines.

Butterflies have fared particularly poorly, the authors found. Over 20 years, the ranges of ap

Contact: Christina Smith
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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