Nearly 30,000 Species Face Extinction Because of Human Activity
The statistics around threatened species are looking grim. A new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has added more than 9,000 new additions to its Red List of threatened species, pushing the total number of species on the list to more than 105,000 for the first time, according to the Guardian.
The IUCN last published its definitive assessment of the status of species in December. Since then, it has found many species have gotten worse and not a single one has improved. The analysis found that 27 percent of the list, or 28,338 different species, are at risk of extinction. The IUCN organizes this group into three different categories, Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. To make matters worse, an additional 6,435 species fall into the near-threatened category.
The extent of the problem is global. It runs the gamut from the depths of the oceans to the peaks of mountains. Man-made destruction is the primary driver of declining plant and animal species. The red-capped mangabey, a monkey previously listed as vulnerable moved to endangered since it is hunted for bush meat and its habitat is being destroyed, according to Mongabay.
Similarly, habitat loss and the pet trade moved the pancake tortoise in East Africa from vulnerable to critically endangered. In Japan, nearly half of its native freshwater fish are being pushed towards extinction as well as nearly a third of freshwater fish in Mexico.
"The loss of these freshwater fish species would deprive billions of people of a critical source of food and income, and could have knock-on effects on entire ecosystems," said William Darwall, head of the IUCN freshwater biodiversity unit, as the Guardian reported.
Trees are facing trouble too. Illegal logging has decimated Madagascar's rosewoods, and Dutch elm disease, an invasive fungal disease, has nearly wiped out the American elm. In fact, more than 5,000 new entries to the list are trees, including a West African evergreen tree that, thanks to mining, agriculture, and urban expansion has fewer than 250 mature trees left, as Mongabay reported.
"The implications for people are that we lose valuable resources such as rosewoods and elms, and we also lose ecosystem resilience, undermining the essential ecosystem services that forests provide," said Paul Smith, secretary general of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, in an IUCN statement.
The report highlighted the Rhino Rays as the most critically endangered marine species. It has been overfished, in part for shark fin, a specialty in China and parts of Asia, as TIME reported. All but one of the 16 species of Rhino Rays is near extinction.
"With more than 100,000 species now assessed for the IUCN Red List, this update clearly shows how much humans around the world are overexploiting wildlife," said Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of the IUCN, in a statement. "States, businesses and civil society must urgently act to halt the overexploitation of nature, and must respect and support local communities and Indigenous Peoples in strengthening sustainable livelihoods."
"The numbers are just horrendous, that's totally frightening," said Lee Hannah, a climate change biologist at Conservation International, to TIME. "We've had a lot of great progress, we've got national parks, community conservancies, a lot of great conservation going on around the world, and these numbers tell us that it's just not enough."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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