The development of agriculture and the rise of civilization led to rapid deforestation and other habitat changes. Later, as people explored new areas, the introduction of exotic species became a greater cause of extinction, especially after Columbus’s voyage to the New World, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, and the resulting spread of European civilization and technology.
People have caused extinctions over a long time, not just in recent years. The earliest people probably caused extinctions through hunting. This practice continues, especially for specific animal products considered valuable, such as elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns. When people learned to use fire, they began to change habitats over large areas. But despite attempts at direct management, few wild living resources have remained at constant levels.
New ideas about the intrinsic variability of ecosystems and populations lead us to question the assumption that such resources can or should be maintained at constant levels. Although the final extinction of a species takes place in one locale, the problem of biological diversity and the extinction of species is global because of the worldwide increase in the rate of extinction and because of the growth of the human population and its effects on wild living resources.