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Humans Are Wiping Out Species So Fast That Evolution Can't Keep Up
With the consequences of human activities pushing Earth into a sixth mass extinction, a team of biologists have calculated that plant and animal species are being wiped out so quickly that evolution cannot keep up.
Human activities—including pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, poaching, warming oceans and extreme weather events tied to climate change—are predicted to drive so many mammals to extinction in the next five decades that nature will need somewhere between 3 to 7 million years to restore biodiversity levels to where it was before modern humans evolved, according to an alarming new analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study's authors, who hail from Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, are urging drastic conservation efforts.
"It is much easier to save biodiversity now than to re-evolve it later," lead author Matt Davis of Aarhus University said in a press release.
For the study, the researchers combed through an extensive database of mammals that includes existing species and species that lived in the recent past but have gone extinct since the rise of Homo sapiens. They determined that in the 130,000 years that humans have wandered the planet, we've erased 2.5 billion years-worth of evolutionary development by driving 300 million different mammal species to extinction.
When certain species die off, much of its "phylogenetic diversity" disappears, too. For instance, as Davis explained to The Guardian, losing a few species of shrew is not as devastating as losing elephants. Losing elephants is akin to "chopping a large branch off the tree of life … whereas losing a shrew species would be like trimming off a small twig."
Davis further noted in the press release:
"Large mammals, or megafauna, such as giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were highly evolutionarily distinct. Since they had few close relatives, their extinctions meant that entire branches of Earth's evolutionary tree were chopped off. There are hundreds of species of shrew, so they can weather a few extinctions. There were only four species of saber-toothed tiger; they all went extinct."
Worryingly, some of today's most iconic megafauna are facing increasing rates of extinction, the press release warns. Black rhinos are at high risk of becoming extinct within the next 50 years. Asian elephants have less than a 33 percent chance of lasting beyond this century.
"Although we once lived in a world of giants: giant beavers, giant armadillos, giant deer, etc., we now live in a world that is becoming increasingly impoverished of large wild mammalian species. The few remaining giants, such as rhinos and elephants, are in danger of being wiped out very rapidly," said Jens-Christian Svenning from Aarhus University in the press release.
Saving animals with the long evolutionary histories—including the black rhino, the red panda and the indri lemur—should thus be prioritized.
"This highlights species we should try to save and could help us prioritize conservation," Davis told The Guardian.
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The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.
The WHO stressed that more research is needed on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion. luchschen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The UN's health agency on Thursday said that microplastics contained in drinking water posed a "low" risk at their current levels.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) — in its first report on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion — also stressed more research was needed to reassure consumers.
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In April 2018, Afro-Colombian activist Francia Márquez won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, thanks to her work to retake her community's ancestral territories from illegal gold mining. However, her international recognition comes at a very risky price.
By Stuart Braun
A year after activist Greta Thunberg first stood in the rain outside the Swedish parliament with her now iconic "Skolstrejk för klimatet" — school strike for the climate — placard, the movement she spawned has set the tone for environmental protest action around the world.
Toy maker Hasbro wants to play in the eco-packaging game. The board game giant will ditch its plastic packaging by 2022. The move means that games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation will no longer have shrink wrap, window sheets, plastic bags or elastic bands, as the Associated Press reported.