It is a curious fact that on Earth species death is, in the most literal sense, a way of life. No one knows how many species of organisms have existed since life began. Thirty billion is a commonly cited figure, but the number has been put as high as 4,000 billion. Whatever the actual total, 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us. “To a first approximation,” as David Raup of the University of Chicago likes to say, “all species are extinct.” For complex organisms, the average lifespan of a species is only about four million years—roughly about where we are now.
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