Humans have influenced the planet Earth so greatly that scientists are now talking about the onset of a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene (human impact on the Earth’s ecosystem). It is believed that the most significant global changes associated with the activities of modern people began in the mid-20th century. And the consequences came soon: experts began talking about the advent of an era of the sixth mass extinction.
A completely logical question arises: who will become the most powerful species in nature change in the relatively near future?
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According to experts, in the future, the planet will be dominated by small insectivorous animals with a short life span and high fecundity, which can adapt to different habitat conditions. The list of survivors will include many rodents and songbirds.
The victims of global change will be primarily large animals with a longer life span, which can survive only in a specific environment and adapt worse to changes.
According to the forecast, the average body weight of mammals in the next century will decrease by 25% in general. This is a much faster and more dramatic change in comparison with the previous one that began about 130,000 years ago, in the last glacial epoch, and has lasted until now. During this quite a long period, animals have decreased by an average of 14%.
A significant reduction in species, each of which performed unique functions within the global ecosystem, will not pass for the Earth without a trace. Further consequences are likely to turn out to be negative for the long-term sustainability of ecology and evolution.
During the research, experts worked with 15,484 species of living terrestrial mammals and birds. Scientists examined five key characteristics related to the vital activity of each species and their roles in the ecosystem. These are body weight, the average number of offspring, which one female reproduces at a time (litter in viviparous animals or clutch in birds), habitat width, ration and time interval over which generations are replaced.
In addition, the researchers used the Endangered Species List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to determine which animals are most likely to become extinct by the next century.
The researchers used modern statistical tools and computer models to combine and analyze all of these data to make predictions and estimate possible losses.
As a result, for species classified as “on the verge of extinction” (such as the Sumatran orangutan), the so-called survival prognosis was only 1%. For animals with protected status “endangered” (such as the Amur tiger), the chances of surviving to the end of the century were two out of three. Meanwhile, for species that are “in a vulnerable position”, it was stated that they are at risk of becoming endangered (for example, giraffes), as the prediction of survival was 90%.
Nevertheless, the research team is confident that some species still have a chance for salvation, and now is the time to begin to develop and implement new environmental measures. The authors hope that their research will encourage authorities of different countries and their inhabitants to take active steps.
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A recent study has shown that the mass culture of modern times gives many people the impression that today, such “popular” animals as elephants, tigers, lions, and rhinos, as well as many others, are not in danger. However, the fact that they become heroes of films and cartoons does not mean that humanity has taken enough action to save them.
According to forecasts, in the next hundred years, there will be no black rhinos on Earth. And this is despite the fact that today most of them live in protected areas.