Study Reveals 30% of All Species Swap for Other Species Every 10 Years
By John C. Cannon
Life is reshuffling itself at an unsettling clip across Earth's surface and in its oceans, a new study has found.
The research, published Oct. 18 in the journal Science, drills into data from 239 studies that looked at changes in biodiversity over time. It reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years.
Fish swim near a coral reef.
The sweeping hemorrhage of species across the planet continues to rattle scientists and conservationists. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services revealed that a million species or more could go extinct.
But squaring that global trend with what's happening at local levels has been difficult. At this level, research shows that the sheer number of species in many spots are holding steady or even going up. That's led some scientists to believe that species richness, an oft-used measure of biodiversity that tabulates the number of species living in a given area, provides an incomplete understanding of how life on Earth is changing.
"It is increasingly recognized that species richness alone cannot fully describe how biodiversity is changing," Shane Blowes, the paper's co-lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Halle-Jena-Leipzig, said in an email. "Species richness will continue to play an important role in our understanding of taxonomic diversity, but a more complete, nuanced picture of biodiversity change emerges when it is combined with other metrics."
The researchers found that 28 percent of species are being replaced each decade.
Blowes teamed up with ecologist Maria Dornelas and more than 20 other scientists from around the world to map changes in species richness as well as the composition of those local species groups across Earth's surface and oceans with an open-source database called BioTIME. Developed by Dornelas and her colleagues at the UK's University of St. Andrews, the BioTIME database gave the team access to more than 50,000 sets of data collected over time, known as time series, in nearly all of the world's ecosystems.
In 2014, Dornelas led a study revealing that the relative constancy of species numbers at local levels masked furtive changes in the identities of those species, which they referred to as reorganization. In the current research, the team found that this reorganization happens as species from elsewhere move in and replace the original inhabitants. As a result, the absolute number of species — captured as species richness — remains relatively constant, or might even go up.
"Their study thus highlights that the global biodiversity crisis, at least for now, is not primarily about decline but, rather, about large-scale reorganization," Britas Klemens Eriksson and Helmut Hillebrand wrote in a related commentary also in Science. Eriksson is an associate professor of marine ecology at the Netherlands' University of Groningen, and Hillebrand is a biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany.
The researchers found that 28 percent of species are being replaced each decade.
Blowes, Dornelas and their colleagues also showed that reorganization isn't uniform. Indeed, it's happening much faster in certain "hotspots" around the globe, like tropical marine ecosystems. In the most volatile spots, turnover in species is happening twice as fast as it is on land. Blowes said that marine species are more sensitive to swings in temperature and they live in a relatively continuous ocean environment with few hurdles to their movement, which could explain the quicker turnover. But, he added, they needed more data to know why for sure.
On one hand, the variability of reorganization provides a measure of hope, at least in parts of the world.
"Our study shows biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere," Dornelas said in a statement. "Some places are recovering and adapting."
However, the maps also show where the most worrying trends in species replacement are occurring.
"High rates of species losses are particularly concerning for tropical latitudes, because in the context of climate change there are likely fewer species capable of replacing species lost," Blowes said, "as tropical zones entering even warmer-temperature regimes have no current day equivalents."
Clarifying the differences in current biodiversity change across Earth's ecosystems could prove invaluable in conservation planning, the authors write.
"Mapping biodiversity change allowed us to identify regions of the world where rates of either species richness or compositional change are highest," Blowes said. "And our results should help refine hypotheses of where different drivers of biodiversity change might be most important."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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