Vanishing Before Our Eyes

Not since an asteroid smacked Earth 65 million years ago have animal and plant species died out so fast. We have no idea what we're losing.

Known as the biosphere to scientists and as the creation to theologians, all of life together consists of a membrane around earth so thin that it cannot be seen edgewise from a satellite yet so prodigiously diverse that only a tiny fraction of species have been discovered and named. The products of billions of years of evolution, organisms occupy virtually every square centimeter of the planet's surfaces and fill nearly every imaginable niche.

Biologists estimate that more than half the species occur in the tropical rain forests. From these natural greenhouses, many world records of biodiversity have been reported--425 kinds of...

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