Human activity was responsible for 96% of mammal extinctions over the past 126,000 years, new research has found.
Although earlier studies suggested climate change was responsible for such extinctions – in particular for the extinction of megafauna such as woolly rhinos and mammoths 12,000 years ago – the new study has found this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Instead, the arrival of humans to Australia around 65,000 years ago and to the Americas around 24,000 years ago looks to have caused particular spikes in animal extinctions.
In the study, published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers noted that similar results were found in Madagascar and the Caribbean, with animal extinction rates shooting up after the arrival of the first humans.
‘Based on current trends, we predict for the near future a rate escalation of unprecedented magnitude,’ noted the study’s team of researchers from Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
In fact, they went on to predict that as many as 558 species could be lost in the next 100 years, in what would be the highest spike in extinction rates since non-avian dinosaurs disappeared 66 million years ago.
That would be a substantial increase from the 351 mammal species extinctions over the course of the last 126,000 years, although rates have started rising rapidly in recent years, with 80 species lost in the last 1,500 years alone.
This means current extinction rates are around 1,700 times higher than those at the beginning of the Late Pleistocene era 126,000 years ago, according to the authors of the study.
This contradicts the results of earlier studies, which suggested climate change was to blame. ‘Predictors based on past climate… perform no better than expected by chance, suggesting that climate had a negligible impact on global mammal extinctions,’ the study states.
Co-author Daniele Silvestro said, as per The Telegraph, the team found ‘essentially no evidence for climate-driven extinctions’ after compiling a large data set of fossils.
However, Silvestro did warn that climate change poses other, more unique threats to animals, adding:
Together with fragmented habitats, poaching, and other human-related threats, it poses a large risk for many species.
Professor Samuel Turvey at the Zoological Society of London, who is also a co-author of the study, said it is now ‘essential’ to ‘reconstruct our past impacts on biodiversity’ so we can understand why some species have been particularly vulnerable to human activities.
This can then ‘hopefully allow us to develop more effective conservation actions to combat extinction,’ Turvey said.
Fingers crossed this new study will be the first step in understanding this, and we’ll be able to turn the tide on animal extinction.
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