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Look: 82 species chronicle Earth's latest mass extinction

A new book explores our consequential relationship with nature.

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As a species, Homo sapiens wield incredible power over the fate of life on Earth.

Our industrialized world has caused unprecedented destruction to wildlife.

But people have also intervened to bring species back from the brink of extinction, and restore struggling ecosystems.

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Marc Schlossman

The consequential relationship between ourselves and nature is the subject of a decade-long project published in the new book Extinction: Our Fragile Relationship with Life on Earth.

Photographer Marc Schlossman spent ten years photographing collections of birds, reptiles, mammals, and more at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

Many of the 82 species he photographed are extinct.

Others are endangered, threatened, or data deficient — meaning there isn’t enough information to determine their risk of extinction.

And others are species thriving today thanks to persistent conservation efforts.

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

Schlossman tells Inverse that he hopes the book helps people both visualize biodiversity loss and understand its main causes.

Habitat destruction, resource exploitation, pollution, climate change, and the wildlife trade are key players in the decline.

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But rather than simply eulogize what we’ve lost, Schlossman highlights conservation success stories to show what humans have done to restore the livelihood of many species — and what we can still do to save others.

“We just can't afford to do anything but wake up every morning and go like, ‘yesterday's gone, we need to concentrate on what we can do now.’”

Schlossman, to Inverse.

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Marc Schlossman

In all the time that Schlossman spent at the collections, he says the museum curators remained optimistic about the future.

“I don't hear them being pessimistic, so I'm not gonna be pessimistic either,” he says.

“I’d like to think that this project is an exercise in hope that it’s not too late. And that it becomes a voice in a public chorus that is demanding more conservation measures and a better look at how we live our lives.”

Schlossman, in a book trailer for Extinction.

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Here are the stories of 11 species featured in the new book:

Marc Schlossman

11. Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Status: Critically endangered

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

These bees were once found in broad swaths of the Midwest and Canada, but suffered a 95 percent population decline over the past few decades.

They’re now protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and conservation groups are working to monitor and boost their numbers.

10. Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Status: Extinct

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

Possible sightings of this iconic bird have been reported as recently as this year — though its last confirmed sighting was over 60 years ago.

9. Xerces Blue Butterfly

Status: Extinct

Marc Schlossman

This stunning insect was the first North American butterfly to go extinct from human activities — namely habitat loss due to urbanization.

Marc Schlossman

8. Golden toad

Status: Extinct

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

The Golden Toad disappeared drastically from Costa Rica’s forests in the 1980s.

But their extinction spurred the creation of an IUCN task force to study other amphibians and prevent them from meeting the same end.

7. Carolina Parakeet

Status: Extinct

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

The only parrot native to North America was hunted to extinction in the early 1900s.

6. Cinnamon Screech Owl

Status: Least Concern

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

This owl was discovered only 30 years ago.

Though it isn’t endangered, Schlossman says the owl illustrates how little we know about some species — and how little we understand how human activity impacts their ability to survive.

“We live on this planet, and we barely know what's here.”

Schlossman, to Inverse.

Marc Schlossman

5. Floreana Island Giant Tortoise

Status: Extinct

Marc Schlossman

This is one of three Galapagos Islands tortoise species officially declared extinct, though DNA analysis suggests that there could still be specimens alive on the islands.

Marc Schlossman

4. Egyptian Tortoise

Status: Critically Endangered

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

These tiny tortoises from Egypt, Israel, and Libya are shrinking in numbers due to habitat destruction and the pet trade.

However, conservation groups are working to preserve their remaining habitat and reintroduce the species to some areas.

3. Black Abalone

Status: Critically Endangered

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

Disease, overharvesting, and climate change-induced disasters have all contributed to the decline of this mollusk, which was formerly one of the most common species on the U.S. West Coast.

2. Lake Sturgeon

Status: Least Concern

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

This 135-million-year-old species was almost hunted to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But conservation efforts have restored the sturgeon to Great Lakes ecosystems today.

1. Kakapo

Status: Critically Endangered

Marc Schlossman

Marc Schlossman

Though their numbers are still low, a relocation program in New Zealand brought these birds back from the brink of extinction.

In 1995, just 51 Kakapo remained. But by last year, there were 204 birds alive as the result of human intervention.