Image Credit: Dreamy Pixel, CC BY 4.0
Recent responses to climate change reveal the drivers of species extinction and survival (2020) Román-Palacios & Wiens, PNAS, https:/doi/10.1073/pnas.1913007117
We tend to think of climate change as bad, and despite the fact that some organisms will benefit from it, many others won’t. A big part of why we consider it bad is that species are predicted to be lost at an alarming rate, with some estimates as high as 54% of all organisms going extinct. An issue with these predictions is that they tend to assume that species will track their preferred temperature and precipitation conditions, but this eliminates any ability of organisms to adapt to their new normal over time.
Today’s authors wanted to use data from previous studies to estimate how species adapt (or don’t) to climate change. Although previous work has shown that climate change is detrimental for many species, this study aimed to learn if it was due to changes in the overall temperature, changes in the extremes (i.e. how hot the hottest day is), or was it the sheer speed of change that did organisms in. Read more
Birds like this American tree sparrow are declining rapidly, shows a study which looks at huge declines in North American bird populations (Image Credit: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
Decline of the North American avifauna (2019) Rosenberg et al., Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313
When we talk about species loss, we generally focus on extinctions. Too often, when we start to rally around a species, it’s because there are a particularly low number of that species left. In many cases, they’ve often crossed a threshold, from which it’s impossible to pull them back from the brink of extinction.
Often this draws attention away from non-threatened species. Often that’s fine – they’re non-threatened right? But downward population trajectories in these species can still damage ecosystems by lessening the impact of their ecological function, lead to local (if not total) extinctions, and of course, leading them to eventually be threatened.
This week’s authors wanted to look at bird population declines in America, but from the perspective of total abundance, as opposed to a more species-specific view.
Image Credit: Kevin Pluck, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
Brain expansion in early hominins predicts carnivore extinctions in East Africa (2020) Faurby et al, Ecology Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13451
We’ve covered humans and their harmful effects many times here on Ecology for the Masses (see my recent breakdown from last month). Despite all of the colorful examples of our current effects on the wildlife of our planet, a significant amount of research has implicated Homo sapiens as the driver of the extinction of some of the megafauna of the prehistoric world, events that happens millions of years ago. Another possibility is that we as organisms (hominins, not Homo sapiens specifically) have been impacting other species for a very, very long time.
Today, East Africa is home to the most diverse group of large carnivores on the planet (though it is still less diverse than what was once seen in North America and Eurasia). Millions of years ago East Africa had an even more diverse assemblage of large carnivores, including bears, dogs, giant otters, and saber-toothed cats. The change in climate since that time may have caused the decline in large carnivore diversity, but another explanation is the rise of early hominins (our ancestors). Using fossil data, the authors of today’s paper wanted to figure out if it was indeed early hominins that drove many large carnivores extinct.
Image Credit: Swallowtail Grass Seeds, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped
There has been a lot of recent (and well deserved) press surrounding the bush fires in Australia. Because of these fires countless animal and plant life has been lost, and the most visible example of that are the koalas. You probably saw the video of a woman running into a burning area to save a koala from the fire*. Unfortunately, most of the koalas didn’t have people around to save them and over 1,000 are estimated to have died. Because of this a group has claimed that koalas are now “functionally extinct”, and the press has run with this claim. While it is unfortunate that this misinformation spread so quickly and so widely, the good news is that koalas are in fact NOT functionally extinct. Great! But what does being “functionally extinct” mean?
Outdoor cats are a contentious issue for cat-owners, cat-lovers, and those that are concerned about the environment. Like it or not, Fluffy is doing a LOT of damage (Image credit: Cat Outside in Sweden-148884.jpg by Jonatan Svensson Glad, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped).
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but domestic cats are bad for the environment. Sure, we as a species have adopted and incorporated them into our society (I live with two, myself), but that doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for them and their actions.
Image Credit: johnno49, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped
Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves (2018) Rangel et al., Science, 244, DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5452
Understanding the processes which drive biodiversity worldwide is never more crucial than now, in a world where biodiversity is shrinking rapidly. Biogeography, the study of species distributions, has come a long way, but there are still a lot of problems that need solving, including improving our understanding of the interactions between factors like climate change, dispersal abilities, fragmentation and species competition, to name a few.
This paper attempted to analyse some of the effects of those factors in concert, by producing a simulation of the evolutionary process in the world’s most biologically diverse continent, South America.
When species like this toucanet are lost, the interactions that they are a part of are lost too. So how can we restore them? (Image Credit: Jairmoreirafotografia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
Estimating interaction credit for trophic rewilding in tropical forests (2018) Marjakangas, E.-L. et al., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biology, 373, https://dx.doi/10.1098/rstb.2017.0435
We have reviewed more than enough papers on biodiversity loss to entitle us to skip the whole “losing species is bad” spiel (see here, here and here). But what we haven’t talked about is that when some species are lost, specific interactions that those species participate in disappear from an ecosystem. Those interactions range from the minute to the crucial. One such crucial example is that of seed dispersal, whereby specific plants rely on specific animals to disperse their seeds, thus maximising biodiversity in other parts of the forest and creating a positive feedback loop.
Naturally, conservationists will want to reintroduce animals to propagate some of these reactions. But as is always the case in conservation, maximising return is absolutely essential when you’re faced with limited resources and a lot of ground to cover. Today’s authors wanted to develop a system for maximising the effect of species reintroduction.
A release of the formerly endangered Running River Rainbowfish. So how were they brought back from near-extinction? (Image Credit: Karl Moy, University of Canberra, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
We talk a lot about getting the public interested in conservation and ecosystems on Ecology for the Masses, but we’ve rarely talked about how conserving a species is actually accomplished. Where does funding come from? How do you decide which individuals to save? And how do you allow a population room to grow?
In 2015, Peter Unmack was sampling in the Burdekin river system in northern Queensland, Australia, when he noticed an alien population of Eastern Rainbowfish had established in Running River. Specifically a 13km stretch bounded by two gorges, which housed the Running River Rainbowfish, a species distinct to this one stretch. Knowing that the presence of the Eastern Rainbowfish could spell the extinction of the local species, he started a crowdfunding initiative, and essentially saved the Running River Rainbowfish. I spoke to Peter and postgraduate student Karl Moy about the conservation effort.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, 3 years before he passed away, rendering the species functionally extinct. But should species like this be the focus of our conservation efforts? (Image Credit: Make it Kenya, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped)
Last year saw the death of Sudan, the last known northern white rhinoceros in the world. The story went viral, with the usual bemoaning of the way humans treat our planet, followed shortly by the normal rush back into anonymity for the world’s biodiversity. We are currently part of the most dramatic mass extinction event that the planet has ever seen, and more of these stories crop up every year. But is it a problem that the alarm bells are only raised when a creature hits the critically endangered level? Do we need to start paying more attention to population declines before hey hit such low numbers? And how do we even prioritise conservation efforts?
The Raccoon Dog, an alien species, has made its way to Sweden recently. But what sort of effect does it have on the native fauna? (Image Credit: Prue Simmons, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Nest predation by raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides in the archipelago of Northern Sweden (2018) Dahl & Åhlen, Biological Invasions, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-018-1855-4
We’ve spoken about biological invasions at length on EcolMass, and the detrimental effects that the arrival of a new species can have on native populations. Yet eradication is often impossible, and management expensive, so before taking extensive action, it’s always important to ensure that an alien species IS having a negative effect.
The raccoon dog is an Asian species, closely related to foxes, that was introduced to Europe in the early 20th century and has since spread into Scandinavia. Voracious predators that could spread further north due to climate change, our paper this week looks at the extent of their impact on the ecosystems they’ve spread to.