This note is about the notion of extinction and its many forms.

  • Species extinction. The complete disappearance of a biological species from the Earth.
  • Functional extinction (similar to ecological extinction). This is a form of extinction that occurs when a species still exists, but its population size or distribution is so reduced that it no longer plays a significant role in its ecosystem. Functional extinction can result from depletion, overharvesting, habitat fragmentation, or loss of genetic diversity. Functional extinction can have negative impacts on the structure and function of the ecosystem, such as altering food webs, nutrient cycles, or trophic cascades.
  • Commercial extinction. A species still exists but is no longer economically useful for humans.
  • Extinct in the wild.
  • Local extinction. Can reduce genetic diversity and viability.
  • Genetic extinction. This is a form of extinction that occurs when a species or a population loses its genetic diversity or its ability to reproduce. Genetic extinction can be caused by inbreeding, hybridization, genetic engineering, or sterilization. Genetic extinction can affect the evolutionary potential, fitness, and adaptability of the species or the population.
  • Coextinction. Coextinction can be caused by mutualism, parasitism, predation, or commensalism. Coextinction can have cascading effects on the biodiversity and the ecosystem.
  • Phenotypic extinction. This is a form of extinction that occurs when a species or a population loses its distinctive traits or characteristics that define its identity or function. Phenotypic extinction can be caused by environmental changes, natural selection, genetic drift, or human influences. Phenotypic extinction can result in the loss of ecological roles, cultural values, or aesthetic qualities.
  • Cultural extinction. E.g., in whales. This is a form of extinction that occurs when a group of animals loses its learned behaviours, traditions, or customs that are transmitted through social learning or imitation. Cultural extinction in animal populations can be caused by population decline, habitat loss, environmental change, human disturbance, or hybridization. Cultural extinction in animal populations can affect the survival, reproduction, communication, cooperation, or innovation of the animals. (see: Culture shock: how loss of animals’ shared knowledge threatens their survival)
  • Extinctions of the stages of life histories. E.g., in large old trees. (see: The Last of Their Kind – The Earth, Our Home: Art, Technology, and Critical Action)
  • Mass extinction.
  • Pseudoextinction. This is a form of extinction that occurs when a species evolves into a different species or splits into several new species, and the original species is no longer recognized as a distinct taxonomic unit. Pseudoextinction can be caused by speciation, hybridization, or classification changes. Pseudoextinction does not imply the disappearance of the genetic lineage or the phenotypic traits of the original species, but rather the loss of its taxonomic identity.
  • Human societal collapse as driven by extinctions.
  • Human societal or cultural extinction.

Species Extinction

  • A sixth mass extinction is underway.
  • Extinction rates are 1,000 times the background extinction rate
  • This rate has not occurred for 65 million years.
  • 20 percent of species to be extinct by 2030 and about 50 by 2100.
  • Extinction is no longer preventable
  • The cause: human activities.

Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Primary cause: habitat destruction, followed by pollution and overexploitation; some ecologists include invasive species.

Functional Extinction

Group Extinction

Properties of groups get lost with extinctions, this goes for relations, behaviours, cultures, etc.

Cultural Extinction

Humans have erase a significant portion of the Earth’s wildlife from the world as well as from there collective memory of nature.

Wallach, Arian D., Erick J. Lundgren, William J. Ripple, and Daniel Ramp. “Invisible Megafauna.” Conservation Biology 32, no. 4 (2018): 962–65. https://doi.org/10/gddkc9.

Heise, Ursula K. Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Societal Extinction

That is forgetting through the lack of exposure.

Jarić, Ivan, Uri Roll, Marino Bonaiuto, Barry W. Brook, Franck Courchamp, Josh A. Firth, Kevin J. Gaston, et al. ‘Societal Extinction of Species’. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 37, no. 5 (2022): 411–19. https://doi.org/10/gpg8n5.


What Do You Call the Last of a Species A popular article about endlings


Jørgensen, Dolly. ‘Endling, the Power of the Last in an Extinction-Prone World’. Environmental Philosophy 14, no. 1 (2017): 119–38. https://doi.org/10/f3thfv.


Is it ethical?

Minteer, Ben A. The Fall of the Wild: Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.

Dooren, Thom van, and Deborah Bird Rose. “Keeping Faith with the Dead: Mourning and De-Extinction.” Australian Zoologist 38, no. 3 (2017): 375–78. https://doi.org/10/gnhcxj.


Rose, Deborah Bird, Thom Van Dooren, and Matthew Chrulew, eds. Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

Johnson, Chris. Australia’s Mammal Extinctions: A 50,000 Year History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.