The Sixth Extinction

by Elizabeth Kolbert

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is a nonfiction account of the so-called "sixth extinction," which author Elizabeth Kolbert states our earth is currently experiencing. As an expert in the field of climate change, Kolbert works to demonstrate that the human species operates as a critical contributor to environmental disruption.

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Thus, there are no "characters" within the book in the traditional sense; however, there are certain species which are focused on in detail as a means of exhibiting human responsibility in their elimination or reduction. We may consider these species (which I have placed in bold font) to be the true "characters" of the book. 

In chapter one, the focus is on the Panamanian golden frogs, which are disappearing as the result of humans bringing the invasive Chytrid fungus to Panama. 

In chapter two, the focus is on the American mastodon, which Kolbert suggests was eliminated as a result of a violent natural catastrophe. 

In chapter three, the focus is on the great auk, which was rendered extinct due to overexploitation by Icelandic settlers. 

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In chapter four, the focus is on the survival of the ammonites after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. 

In chapter five, the focus is on the extinction of graptolites as a result of glaciation. 

In chapter six, the focus is on the decline of life forms around the Castello Aragonese as a result of increasing carbon dioxide.

In chapter seven, the focus is on the decline of coral reefs as a result of ocean acidification. 

In chapter eight, the focus is on the future extinction of tree and plant species which are incapable of migrating to accommodate environmental disruption. 

In chapter nine, the focus is on species living on "islands," or fragmented environmental areas and the importance of patch dynamics.

In chapter ten, the focus is on the American bats killed by Geomyces destructans and the American chestnut killed by Cryphonectria parasitica.

In chapter eleven, the focus is on the decline of the Sumatran Rhino due to habitat fragmentation. 

In chapter twelve, the focus is on the elimination of the Neanderthals as the result of breeding with humans. 

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