Tag Archives: deforestation

New Analysis Suggests Sixth Mass Extinction Could Occur By 2200

We’ve already been warned that our planet faces a sixth mass extinction, and some even believe that we are already in the early stages of such an event. Now, the harsh reality of the impending situation has been highlighted by the scientific journal Nature, with a special report detailing the threats that major animal groups face. According to the analysis, those predicted to take the greatest hit are amphibians, with an alarming 41% of species within this group facing extinction. But mammals and birds won’t get off lightly, with 26% and 13% of species similarly threatened, respectively.

Among the known critically endangered species are numerous different primates, such as the snub-nosed monkey, black rhinos, the yangtzee river dolphin, western gorillas and the Amur leopard. But many species that are currently only listed as endangered also face being wiped out, such as bonobos and loggerhead turtles.

The primary driver? Humans. According to the Living Planet Index, exploitation—such as hunting and fishing—is playing a major role in triggering the decline in animal species. Other human activities that are helping obliterate populations include agriculture and urbanization, whereby large areas of wild habitats are destroyed to make way for buildings, infrastructure, livestock and crops.

Climate change, which is primarily due to humans, is also threatening many sensitive animals, such as polar bears and corals, and will probably accelerate extinctions in ways that are currently unknown. Increasing CO2 emissions are not only warming our planet and seas, but they are acidifying our oceans, making them a more hostile environment for marine organisms. It’s estimated that 10% of all Earth’s coral reefs are already degraded beyond recovery, and if current pressures continue, 60% could be dead by 2050.

While we know that the situation is not good for many organisms on Earth, attempting to predict how quickly species are likely to disappear is extremely difficult, which only exacerbates the problem. Much of the uncertainty comes from the fact that we only know about a fraction of our planet’s biodiversity, and many unknown groups often reside in small areas that are already being demolished by humans and may never be assessed.

When scientists attempt to assess the number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive today, estimates are wildly varied, ranging from around two million to more than 50 million. Not only that, but approximations of the rate of extinction also vary, ranging from 0.01% to 0.7%, meaning the number of species disappearing is somewhere between 500 and 36,000 a year. If we use the upper rate, a mass extinction—or loss of 75% of species—could occur within the next few hundred years. At the lower rate, however, it may not arrive for thousands of years.

Five mass extinction events have occurred before, all of which were triggered by either natural planetary transformations or asteroid strikes. But the impending 6th event will be the work of humans, who have been gradually wiping out animals since mammoths and mastodons during prehistoric times.

So what can we do? According to the report, it’s of fundamental importance that countries start extending protected areas and devoting more resources to counting and evaluating stocks of life on Earth before they disappear.

[Via Nature, Nature, The Guardian and The Independent]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/new-analysis-suggests-sixth-mass-extinction-could-occur-2200

Report Reveals Over Half The World’s Primates Are Endangered

More than half of the worlds species of primates are on the brink of extinction, according to the latest report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Compiled by more thanexperts from around the planet, the report also contains a list of the 25 primate species considered to be at the highest risk of extinction, and therefore most in need of urgent conservation action.

TheLac Alaotra bamboo lemur, of which only around 3,000 survive, lives in reed beds surrounding a single lake in Madagascar.Jotaguru/Wikimedia Commons

The report, titled Primates in Peril: The Worlds 25 Most Endangered Primates, is released every two years and aims to highlight the threats faced globally by primates. The list comprises somewell-known species, such as the Sumatran orangutan and Javan slow loris, but also highlights many lesser-known and often more endangered primates.These include the Kashmir grey langur, of which there are currently an unknown number, andthe Cat Ba langur, of which there areonly around 60 surviving in the forests of Vietnam.

This years list includes five primate species from Madagascar, five from Africa, 10from Asia, and five from Central and South America. How endangered the animals are is not based purely on how many of the primates exist, but also takes into account the level and intensity of the threats they face and general population trends. The main dangers facing the species are fairly predictable: habitat destruction, and hunting for both the food and illegal pet trade.

The Roloway monkey, which is native to the Ivory Coast and Ghana, has experienced a population decline of80 percent over the last three generations.Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia Commons

This research highlights the extent of the danger facing many of the worlds primates, says DrChristoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society, who helped compile the list. We hope it will focus peoples attention on these lesser known primate species, some of which most people will probably have never heard of, such as the Lavasoa Mountains dwarf lemur from Madagascar a species only discovered two years ago or the Roloway monkey from Ghana and Ivory Coast, which we believe is on the very verge of extinction.

There are currently 703 recognized species of primates, though this number is frequently growing. In just the last 15 years,researchers have described animpressive 75 new species of primates, manyof which are from the island of Madagascar. With only10 percent of the country’s forests still in existence, asignificant numberof these species require critical support to ensure their long-term survival, something the report is trying to muster by bringing attention to these often overlooked species. You can see which other primates have made the worlds 25 most endangered list here.

Main image: Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/over-half-worlds-primates-are-endagered

Destruction of Amazon Rainforest Visible From Space

The Amazon rainforest stretches over 5.5 million square kilometers, 60% of which is in Brazil. It is home to millions of species that make up 10% of all of Earth’s biodiversity, including 40,000 different plant species, 3,000 freshwater fish species, and over 370 reptile species. There are nearly 400 billion trees across 16,000 species in the rainforest, but sadly, Brazil has a deforestation problem so large, it can be seen from space. 

In August, NASA released a picture of the Amazon rainforest burning as seen from the ISS. Not only does this decimate the habitat of millions of species in the region, but it is also aggravating climate change.

Over the last 40 years, 20% of the rainforest has been cleared for timber and to make room for farm land. While those seeking timber need to cut the trees down manually, farmers who seek to expand their crop fields will often just burn the trees down. Deforestation is always a problem because it removes trees capable of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Though the Amazon takes up only 5% of the planet’s land area, it takes up and stores 10% of atmospheric carbon. When trees die or are cleared, it releases that carbon. 

It has been estimated that deforestation represents 15% of all CO2 emissions in the world, which is more than all automobiles combined. If deforestation is permitted to continue unchecked, it will severely exacerbate the levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, bolstering the effects of climate change. Over the next several years, deforestation could pump 200 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Today (September 23) the UN Climate Summit is meeting in New York, and deforestation is on the table. Brazil has not endorsed the document, however, as they have stated that they were not consulted with when the anti-deforestation initiative was drafted. Brazilian law does permit legal deforestation for private land owners and to meet basic public needs, but Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told The Associated Press that her country seeks to focus on ending deforestation that is done illegally.

Though deforestation has been declining in recent years, 2013 saw a 28% increase compared to 2012. It is hard to determine how much of that has been done illegally, as a key tactic among those committing environmental crime is to forge the documents and permits.

Toward the end of August, Brazilian officials announced the arrest of eight key members of a group responsible for the majority of illegal logging in the Amazon, and another six were still at large. Since the arrests, the rate of deforestation in the area has fallen from 13.1 square miles per week to zero in the first week of September. This was welcomed news, given that Brazil has previously been plagued with controversy involving corruption where the environment is involved.

In an effort to stop deforestation elsewhere in the world, Norway announced they will pay Liberia US$150 million to stop cutting down trees. BBC reports that the Ebola outbreak may increase in illegal logging in Liberia as many are desperate and strapped for cash. A portion of the money from Norway will be used for surveillance crews and equipment, with communities getting paid to protect the forest. 

[Hat tip: Discovery News]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/destruction-amazon-rainforest-visible-space