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I'm trying to come up with a sequence of events that would render humanity extinct without killing off all vertebrate life. I'm starting with the assumption that this is modern humanity and that it doesn't need to be any one single event or happen very fast.

Any thoughts?

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closed as too broad by AndreiROM, Azuaron, DaaaahWhoosh, James, Frostfyre Jan 9 '17 at 21:21

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    $\begingroup$ A long-latency virus that specifically attacks only people. See also Could we still plunge modern civilization into another black death? $\endgroup$ – Robert Harvey Jan 9 '17 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ +1 to Robert Harvey - “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is a virus.” - Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Prize Laureate. The rest of the entire ecosystem would remain intact and unharmed. $\endgroup$ – Jym Jan 9 '17 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ There are those who think we should do it voluntarily: www.vhemt.org/ $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Jan 9 '17 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Jym - some people could hide in bunkers, and emerge a hundred years later, when the virus is dormant, or extinct. Others might just survive in some incredibly remote corner of the world, and eventually rise again, etc. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 9 '17 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Semni, I would suggest reading through some questions under the apocalypse tag, we probably have 100 options for you here on the site alone. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 9 '17 at 20:54
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One idea would be that population controls to save the planet go too far. Specific triggers are put into certain genes that would make some percentage of the population infertile. Unfortunately something goes wrong and the trigger is activated on more of the population than intended. Within several generations humans are no longer able to reproduce. Our solution to save the planet eventually does just that, with the side effect of humans being wiped out (or at least reduced to a miniscule population that is immune to the population control).

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  • $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't scientists be able to reverse their mistake? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 9 '17 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Really depends on where the author is trying to take the story as to this explanation. A. It took several generations for this to become apparent. By that time the people who developed this solution were no longer present and their research was destroyed. B. It could have been instituted by a corporation, which required payment to not receive the marker. Said corporation wanted to drive up profits and restricted the number of people who received it. Driving up demand. Only to find that in the end, only the owners of said corporation could afford to not have the trigger. $\endgroup$ – bhilgert Jan 9 '17 at 19:19
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50km Asteroid or Siberian Traps v2.0

An enormous event that completely clouds over the surface of the Earth for decades, perhaps centuries. Primary productivity of land plants and surface plankton stops completely. All land-based multi-celluar life (excepting fungus) ends.

The oceans, on the other hand, have some better options. First, they have pockets of life where primary production is not provided by the sun. Second, there are extensive eco-systems that rely mostly on dying biological waste from above. Lastly, that dying biological waste will last a long time on anoxic deep sea floors.

Several vertebrate fish are candidates to survive in this scenario. Depending on the extend which which deep sea ecosystems stay intact, there are a great number of medium-small predatory deep sea fish. There are long-living scavengers like hagfish and sleeper sharks who may be able to survive for decades on rotting fish remains. Finally, there various eels and ophidiiformes that live on the ecosystems of black smoker vents and will almost certainly survive.

Humans are too widespread and too adaptable to not survive longer than any other surface dwelling vertebrates. It will have to be a whole-land extinction that removes humans, and leaves specialist fish around.

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