In biology, extinction is the termination of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the 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 "reappears" (typically in the fossil record) after a period of apparent absence.
More than 99 percent of all species, amounting to over five billion species, that ever lived on Earth are estimated to have died out. Estimates on the number of Earth's current species range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86 percent have not yet been described. More recently, in May 2016, scientists reported that 1 trillion species are estimated to be on Earth currently with only one-thousandth of one percent described.
Through evolution, 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. The relationship between animals and their ecological niches has been firmly established. A typical species becomes extinct within 10 million years of its first appearance, although some species, called living fossils, survive with virtually no morphological change for hundreds of millions of years.
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 current high rate of extinctions. Most species that become extinct are never scientifically documented. Some scientists estimate that up to half of presently existing plant and animal species may become extinct by 2100.
A dagger symbol (†) placed next to the name of a species or other taxon is often done to indicate its status as extinct.
An endangered species is a species which has been categorized as very likely to become extinct. Endangered (EN), as categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, is the second most severe conservation status for wild populations in the IUCN's schema after Critically Endangered (CR).
In 2012, the IUCN Red List featured 3079 animal and 2655 plant species as endangered (EN) worldwide. The figures for 1998 were, respectively, 1102 and 1197.
Many nations have laws that protect conservation-reliant species: for example, forbidding hunting, restricting land development or creating preserves. Population numbers, trends and species' conservation status can be found at the lists of organisms by population.