We often think of extinction as happening out there, in far away wild places, but it also takes place right inside our minds, in our everyday conversations and on social media. Beyond biological extinction, which takes place when the last animal or plant of its kind dies, species can live on in our collective memory, traditionally transmitted locally through word of mouth, art and literature, and more recently through movies, television, and the internet. These memories can, almost paradoxically, keep an extinct species like the passenger pigeon, present in our everyday lives long after they are gone. But, tragically, the contrary also occurs. When a species disappears from, or has never been in, our minds despite still existing across the Earth, this lack of collective knowledge and memories of the species can accelerate its physical disappearance. This process of disappearing from collective memory is what we refer to as ‘societal extinction’ in a recent paper—in contrast to biological extinction—and it often occurs gradually.
We have also published a summary of the paper in Current Conservation: have a read HERE