Background Extinction vs Mass Extinction: Difference and Comparison

The term “extinct” refers to an organism that no longer lives anyplace in the world. The usual extinction rate is referred to as background extinction.

These are species that become extinct since not all life on this planet can be supported, and certain species cannot exist. Mass extinction is a worldwide occurrence that eliminates the vast majority (more than half) of all living organisms.

Key Takeaways

  1. Background extinction occurs steadily, naturally, while mass extinction involves the abrupt loss of many species.
  2. Mass extinctions are rare, catastrophic events, whereas background extinctions are an ongoing part of the Earth’s natural processes.
  3. Human activities contribute to accelerated extinction rates, which some scientists consider a potential mass extinction event.

Background Extinction vs Mass Extinction

The difference between mass extinction and background extinction is that background extinction is a gradual and slow process, whereas mass extinction is a sudden and rapid process. According to the history of the Earth, background extinction occurs more frequently, but mass extinction is not very frequent.

Background Extinction vs Mass

The nature of background extinction is gradual and slow, and it is very common in the history of the Earth. The causes of background extinction are direct, and they include the introduction of a new predator or the species’ failure to adapt.

The number of species that go extinct through background extinction is higher, and one such species includes the Australian Megafauna.

The nature of mass extinction is sudden and rapid, and it is not very common in the history of the Earth. The causes of mass extinction are indirect and include natural catastrophes or drastic climate changes.

Comparatively, fewer number species go extinct through this process, and one such example includes the Dinosaur species.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonBackground ExtinctionMass Extinction
Nature of ExtinctionGradual and slowSudden, rapid, and on a large scale
Frequency of OccurrenceVery common in the planet’s historyNot very common
Causes of ExtinctionDirect causes (new predator, failure to adapt)Indirect causes (natural disasters, climate change)
Number of SpeciesMore number of species go extinct through background extinctionLess number of species go extinct through a mass extinction
Examples of SpeciesThe Australian megafauna went extinct this wayThe dinosaurs went extinct this way

What is Background Extinction?

Background extinction is the gradual process through which a small fraction of species at any given moment become extinct over the duration of the planet’s history.

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Some experts believe that background extinction is caused by deteriorating reproductive fitness and decreased ability to adjust to environmental changes.

The capacity of an animal to create viable children who can live long enough to produce fertile offspring themselves are referred to as reproductive success. Traits that improve an organism’s chances of survival will be prioritized.

Those traits that are detrimental to an organism’s survival will be eliminated in a population. Species at risk of extinction are those in which organisms fail to reproduce or fail to reproduce sufficiently.

If a species’ capacity to produce viable offspring in its habitat declines over time, it may go extinct. This is how background extinction occurs.

Climate change and invasive species penetration appear to be the primary factors implicated in background extinction. Species will continue to exist as long as their habitat remains within boundaries that they can effectively adapt to.

If the environment changes in such a way that it surpasses these boundaries before a species has time to adjust, individuals of that species will have a more difficult time surviving and reproducing.


What is Mass Extinction?

A mass extinction occurs when an event causes three-quarters or more of current species to become extinct in a geologically short period of time,

hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Mass extinctions are geologically abrupt and entail a number of occurrences.

Geologists and palaeontologists think that over the last 500 million years, there have been at least five significant mass extinctions. These mass extinctions are significant because they are used to denote key geological timescales eras.

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The Mesozoic Era began 251 million years ago with the Permian-Triassic mass extinction and ended 66 million years ago with the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction,

which eliminated dinosaurs and ammonites, among other creatures.

So yet, the only mass extinction that has definitely been attributed to an alien object is the one that wiped off the dinosaurs.

An asteroid impacted with Earth just before the mass extinction event, striking what is now the Yucatan Peninsula on the southernmost edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction was most likely triggered by the impact and flood basalts that produced what is now known as the Deccan Traps in contemporary India.

Main Differences Between Background Extinction And Mass Extinction

  1. The nature of the process of background extinction is gradual and slow, but the process of mass extinction is very rapid and sudden.
  2. The process of background extinction is very common, and the process of mass extinction is less common.
  3. The causes of background extinction are direct, and they include the failure to adapt or a new predator. Mass extinction’s causes are indirect, including natural causes like disasters and climate change.
  4. Relatively more species go extinct through background extinction, and fewer species are prone to mass extinction.
  5. The Australian megafauna went extinct through background extinction, and the Dinosaurs went extinct through a mass extinction.
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Last Updated : 19 June, 2023

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7 thoughts on “Background Extinction vs Mass Extinction: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The detailed information on the nature and causes of background and mass extinctions offers valuable insights. However, the article could enhance its depth by delving into specific examples and species affected by these events.

  2. Acknowledging human activities as catalysts for accelerated extinction rates is a pivotal aspect of the article. It raises awareness of the impact we have on ecological systems and biodiversity.

  3. The article’s comprehensive comparison table effectively highlights the differences between background and mass extinction. The inclusion of examples of species that went extinct through each process further enriches the discussion.

    • I agree, the comparison table provides a clear framework for understanding the variations between background and mass extinctions. It effectively communicates the fundamental disparities between the two.

  4. The exploration of how species at risk of extinction fail to reproduce or adapt underscores the intimate connection between an organism’s survival and its reproductive success. This analysis enriches the understanding of the complexities of these extinction processes.

  5. It’s substantial that the article examines the contrasts and similarities between background and mass extinctions. Understanding the causes and effects of these extinction events is crucial in the study of natural history.

  6. The delineation of the main differences between background and mass extinctions serves to succinctly encapsulate the core distinctions. The inclusion of compelling references further strengthens the article’s credibility.


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