Hunting and Habitat Destruction Are Driving 'Biotic Annihilation,' Study Warns
By Malavika Vyawahare
Humans are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than what is considered natural. Now, new research underscores the extent of the planet's impoverishment.
Extinctions don't just rob the planet of species but also of functional and phylogenetic diversity, the authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argue. "They are much newer ideas than species richness, so not as much exploration has been done about patterns of decline in these two metrics, particularly globally," said Jedediah Brodie, first author of the study and conservation biologist at the University of Montana.
For example, rhinos loom large in public imagination but are, in fact, marching into oblivion. The Bornean rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinoceros, has gone extinct in Malaysia. "It is such a tragedy because it's an iconic and culturally important species," Brodie said, "but also because they are super important both functionally and phylogenetically."
A baby African elephant at Kruger National Park. Rhett A. Butler
Harvesting animals for subsistence or sale is the greatest threat to land-dwelling mammals, the new study found. About 15% of people in the world depend on wild animals, particularly vertebrates, for food. But hunting, illegal and legal, also feeds the global supply chain for wildlife and wildlife parts.
Rhino populations plummeted in the second half of the 20th century; they are heavily poached for their horns, and their ranges have shrunk dramatically over the decades. Of the five existing rhino species, three are critically endangered.
The study focused on terrestrial mammals, one of the most extensively studied groups. They used the IUCN Red List, the most widely cited and comprehensive compilation of endangered species and the threats they face.
By removing animals from their habitats, humans also remove them from ecosystems in which they evolved and play critical roles. To gauge the consequences is not a simple calculus.
"Say there are twenty species of grazing animals and only two species of seed-eating animals. If two species of the grazers go extinct, that doesn't have that much impact on the functional diversity because there are still eighteen grazers left," Brodie said. "But if the two species of seed-eating animals go extinct, it has a huge impact on functional diversity because all of a sudden you've lost this entire ecological function."
In both cases, Brodie said, the species richness would decrease by two, but the effects would be very different.
A Bornean rhino. Jeremy Hance and Tiffany Roufs / Mongabay
Despite their fearsome reputation and bulk, rhinos, some of which can weigh as much as two cars, are herbivores. Bornean rhinos are one of the few large-bodied frugivores and herbivores on Borneo, an island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is also home to another herbivore, the island's famous pygmy elephants. However, rhinos eat different plants than the elephants, so losing them would alter plant seed dispersal and plant evolution.
The research shows that extinctions driven by human activities lead to a more significant decline in functional diversity than if species were randomly going extinct.
"Some species groups are very vulnerable. Be an antelope, and people want to eat you. Be a parrot, and people want you as a pet. Live only on Cuba — as a subfamily of mammals does — and you're in trouble," said Stuart Leonard Pimm, an ecologist and leading authority on the extinction crisis, who was not involved in the recent study. "This leads to a disproportionate loss of ecological function as human actions drive species to extinction."
The disappearance of species doesn't just wipe away entire ecological functions. It also leads to the irredeemable loss of evolutionary history. Millions of years of evolution are encoded into species that coexist with humans today; to lose them is to lose that biological heritage.
The disappearance of the remaining five rhino species would sever an entire evolutionary lineage, the Rhinocerotidae family that arose about 40 million years ago, from the tree of life.
"They are the last remnants of what was a hugely diverse and amazing family found all across the world in the not too distant past," Brodie said of Rhinocerotidae, which counts more than 40 extinct species.
But conservationists warn that it is not just wholesale extinctions that we should be worried about, but also disappearing populations — what Brodie and his co-authors call "biotic annihilation." Only one in every 10 dramatic declines in populations results in extinctions, but those losses have repercussions for ecosystems which experience them.
"Species extinction is an endpoint, and it's a really, really, bad endpoint. Before that happens, species will start to go extinct in individual countries first," Brodie said. "The focus on population decline is really important because it's in some ways a better illustrator of the magnitude of the extinction crisis."
Their research maps out the relationship between species richness and functional and phylogenetic loss for individual countries to aid national-level policymaking.
The work shows that habitat destruction results in more functional diversity loss in Indonesia, Argentina and Venezuela. "This suggests that instead of focusing on harvest management and human diets, conservation actions in these areas might be better directed toward protected areas and land use policy to best conserve this component of biodiversity," the researchers write.
The study also found that climate change is emerging as a major driver of biodiversity loss. What remains to be seen is how these relationships pan out for other animal groups, like reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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