Humans Causing Spike in Extinction Risk for 1,700 Animal Species

(CN) – In the next 50 years a wide swath of amphibians, birds and mammals will face a greater risk of extinction as humans spread across the planet, according to a grim study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

A Nile Lechwe antelope (right) grazes alongside a sitatunga in the Prague Zoo. (Matej Batha via Wikipedia)

About 1,700 species and their habitats will be greatly impacted by human activity by the year 2070, according to the study from ecologists at Yale University.

Those species are predicted to lose 30 to 50 percent of their current habitat. Particularly at risk are the Lombok Cross frog in Indonesia, the Nile lechwe antelope in South Sudan and the pale-browed treehunter bird that makes its home in subtropical or tropical moist mountain forests.

Those species are expected to lose around half of their present-day geographic range in the next 50 years, according to the study’s authors. The researchers projected human growth to make their determinations, including future developments in global society, demographics and economics.

They said from the 19,400 species across the globe they analyzed, 886 species of amphibians, 436 species of birds and 376 species of mammals will see a greater risk of extinction.

Previous mass extinction events on Earth were likely due to gradual climate change, asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions and other catastrophic events that eliminated large swaths of life on the planet.

This current extinction event, referred to as the Holocene extinction based on the Earth’s current geological age, includes the disappearance of large land animals starting around the end of the last Ice Age and is largely caused by human activity and overconsumption.

There are many held theories on extinction events, with some scientific circles holding that they are naturally occurring, while recent findings suggest the rates of extinction are much higher than any pre-human events.

By the year 2070, the estimated population on Earth will rise from 7.6 billion to 9.4 billion, according to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Study authors analyzed data projections from the Map of Life website that outlines biodiversity across the globe.

“Our analyses allow us to track how political and economic decisions — through their associated changes to the global land cover — are expected to cause habitat range declines in species worldwide,” said Walter Jetz, study co-author and ecology professor at Yale.

Estimates show that the greatest loss of species will be felt in Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America, and Southeast Asia. Jetz said while this may be far and removed from others parts of the globe, citizens of the world should be aware that there are cascading impacts from the loss.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally,” Jetz said. “It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil, or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.”

Study authors said their analysis can paint an estimate of what species will be impacted by future land developments and could theoretically use this information to help limit those effects.

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