Middle English, from Latin exstinctus, past participle of exstinguere
- Date: 15th century
- 1 a : no longer burning
- b : no longer active <an extinct volcano>
- 2 : no longer existing <an extinct animal>
- 3 a : gone out of use : superseded
- b : having no qualified claimant <an extinct title>
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or group of taxa. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of that species (although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point). Because a species' potential range may be very large, determining this moment is difficult, and is usually done retrospectively. This difficulty leads to phenomena such as Lazarus taxa, where a species presumed extinct abruptly "re-appears" (typically in the fossil record) after a period of apparent absence.
Through evolution, new species arise through the process of speciation—where new varieties of organisms arise and thrive when they are able to find and exploit an ecological niche—and species become extinct when they are no longer able to survive in changing conditions or against superior competition. A typical species becomes extinct within 10 million years of its first appearance, although some species, called living fossils, survive virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Extinction, though, is usually a natural phenomenon; it is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct.
Mass extinctions are relatively rare events; however, isolated extinctions are quite common. Only recently have extinctions been recorded and scientists have become alarmed at the high rates of recent extinctions. It is estimated most species that go extinct have never been documented by scientists. Some scientists estimate that up to half of presently existing species may become extinct by 2100.