Using frogs and fungi, this chapter discusses how humans may have introduced an invasive species into Panama and caused the extinction rate of the frogs to increase.
Using the example of the now-extinct mastodon, this chapter discusses the idea of catastrophes as a variable in the process of extinction, as discovered by Georges Cuvier. This chapter also includes Thomas Jefferson (p. 27).
This chapter discusses how settlers in Iceland exploited an ancient penguin-like bird, the great auk. They used it for food, oil, and used the feathers too. This led to the extinction of this animal, even though there were attempts at protection. This chapter introduces Charles Darwin and how his ideas developed out of those of Charles Lyell. Kolbert emphasizes the development of our understanding of evolution and human-caused extinction.
This chapter discusses the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs (the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event) and argues that the aftermath of the asteroid's impact (debris and dust) was worse than the impact itself in terms of extinction. This chapter also discusses how the ammonites (a type of mollusc) did not die out during that event. Kolbert explains that this shows that “in times of extreme stress, the whole concept of fitness, at least in a Darwinian sense, loses its meaning” (90). Evolution cannot keep up with abrupt environmental changes.
This chapter discusses the impact humans have had on water, such as that in rivers and the ocean, by changing the chemistry of these environments, and argues that humans have done more damage than nature can repair. There are also examples of how humans have affected land (using fossil fuels, trees, etc.). This coincides with the introduction the term Anthropocene for the age where human actions are the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
This chapter continues from the previous one, analyzing human impact on land and water - deforestation, fossil fuels, emissions -- and how a lot of this has added CO2 to the environment, and how this is killing a lot of species.
Continues focusing on the oceans and how emissions and industrial runoff are killing water species. Corals are mentioned, as well as species that need them to live. The point is that by affecting the oceans, humans are killing the corals.
Discusses the global effects of warming and now it doesn't only affect polar bears and such, but also affects other living beings such as trees. She looks at how the number of species in an area is linked to the size of an area. Global warming is shrinking the areas where plants and animals can survive. This leads to predictions of just how many species of plants and animals will go extinct by 2050.
Discusses environment-related specialization and how a small change in an environment can have devastating consequences for beings living in that environment, because they may not be able to adapt fast enough. It also looks at how breaking up forests into smaller areas leads to fewer species because the area cannot support them.
Discusses the extinction of several species as a result of the introduction of killing mechanisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Explains how a species may not be able to adapt fast enough to these invaders and may in fact be killed outright. Many of these invaders are being brought into environments by humans, due to commerce and travel.
Discusses a species of rhino of which only a few are still surviving today and how the reduction in numbers was due to the rhino's habitat disappearing or significantly decreasing. The aim of this chapter is to show how habitat changes can be a mechanism of extinction.
Discusses the possible influence of humans in the extinction of the Neanderthals. Through interbreeding, the human gene became dominant and the Neanderthals became extinct, except for a few gene remnants in modern humans. It also discusses how great apes could be facing extinction as well.
This chapter focuses on conservation and other measures (such as cryogenics) to preserve species.