Almost 50,000 editors left online encyclopaedia Wikipedia in the first quarter of this year: 10 times the number who deserted the site in the same period of 2008.
The staggering loss of editors from the user-generated site was reported by Felipe Ortega from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. Ortega built and used a computer program to analyse editing history on Wikipedia.
Speaking to The Times, he said: "If you don't have enough people to take care of the project it could vanish quickly. We're not in that situation yet. But eventually, if the negative trends follow, we could be in that situation."
In response, Wikimedia UK's Michael Peel told the Press Association that Wikipedia was in good shape. Peel suggested to PA that Ortega's figures may not be accurate. He questioned the research's definition of what a Wikipedia editor is.
"Wikipedia is very open so anyone can come along and edit, so you do get a constant flux," Peel said.
"Wikipedia is definitely not dying. It's freely licensed which means that content that has been added will be there forever."
Responding to speculation that tightening the rules on who can edit Wikipedia pages may have caused editors to leave, Peel said: "We're trying to engage a bit more at the moment with people who are very knowledgeable."
Peel added that the revamped system meant that the malicious and prank postings that plague Wikipedia were more easily removed.
In the UK early next year Wikipedia will start to gather information from museums to add to existing user-generated entries, leading to speculation in some quarters that the dream of the 'user-generated encyclopedia may be over.