Saving a Diverse Planet

April 3, 2018



Joseph Wachira, 26, comforts Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet, moments before he passed away.
Ami Vitale—National Geographic Creative

To adapt to climate change, we need to preserve the resilience that Biodiversity gives.

Paradoxically, climate change is the greatest threat to that biodiversity.

Scientific American:

Climate change will be the fastest-growing cause of species loss in the Americas by midcentury, according to a new set of reports from the leading global organization on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Climate change, alongside factors like land degradation and habitat loss, is emerging as a top threat to wildlife around the globe, the reports suggest. In Africa, it could cause some animals to decline by as much as 50 percent by the end of the century, and up to 90 percent of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean may bleach or degrade by the year 2050.

The reports, released last week by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), included a sweeping set of biodiversity assessments for four major regions around the world, with contributions from more than 500 experts. A separate report on global land degradation, which was launched yesterday, included more than 100 authors. Both were approved by IPBES’s 129 member states at an ongoing plenary session in Medellín, Colombia.



Three years in the making, the study concluded humans are causing the planet to lose species at such a rapid clip that the resulting risks are on par with those presented by climate change. On top of being unfortunate for those species that no longer exist, these losses also endanger people’s access to food, clean water, and energy, according to the report.

We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature or risk not only the future we want but even the lives we currently lead,” Robert Watson, current IPBES chair and former IPCC chair, told The Guardian.

In addition, by 2050, the report found that under a “business as usual” scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, climate change could jump ahead of other threats, such as habitat loss and change in land use, as the primary cause of extinctions in North and South America.

Wildlife and ecosystems across the world are threatened by the impacts of a warming climate.

Coral reefs, under assault from warming, acidifying waters and pollution, are the poster child for this. They have suffered extensive damage already in South and Southeast Asia, and this report determined that “up to 90 percent of corals will suffer severe degradation by 2050, even under conservative climate change scenarios.”

In Africa by the year 2100, climate change could threaten over half of the continent’s species of birds and mammals and many of its plants.

Healthy Ecosystems Are More Resilient Ecosystems

Larigauderie pointed out that protecting the lands and waters that support the world’s wildlife helps prepare them for the effects of climate change already happening.

Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances – such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases,” she said. “They are our ‘insurance policy’ against unforeseen disasters and, used sustainably, they also offer many of the best solutions to our most pressing challenges.”

Sea level rise and extreme weather are poised to jeopardize species (including humans) in low-lying areas of the Asia-Pacific region. For example, as mangroves continue to be cut down, coastal areas lose these natural buffers against flooding and severe storms, a similar issue as Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico.

Some Good News Here

But there were a few bright spots among the report’s generally glum news. One was the rise in forested areas in Northeast Asia, where restoration and other efforts have increased tree cover by nearly 23 percent, and in the Asia-Pacific region more broadly, by 2.5 percent.

Furthermore, the study set out a range of successful policy options for protecting biodiversity, beyond habitat restoration projects and protected areas such as parks and reserves.

Many of the solutions for stemming the loss of species would have simultaneous benefits for the climate, such as protecting and restoring ecosystems (which can store more carbon), cleaning up energy sources (fewer greenhouse gas emissions), and practicing more sustainable and diverse agriculture (lowering emissions, storing carbon).

E.O. Wilson in the New York Times:

The worldwide extinction of species and natural ecosystems, however, is not reversible. Once species are gone, they’re gone forever. Even if the climate is stabilized, the extinction of species will remove Earth’s foundational, billion-year-old environmental support system. A growing number of researchers, myself included, believe that the only way to reverse the extinction crisis is through a conservation moonshot: We have to enlarge the area of Earth devoted to the natural world enough to save the variety of life within it.

The formula widely agreed upon by conservation scientists is to keep half the land and half the sea of the planet as wild and protected from human intervention or activity as possible. This conservation goal did not come out of the blue. Its conception, called the Half-Earth Project, is an initiative led by a group of biodiversity and conservation experts (I serve as one of the project’s lead scientists). It builds on the theory of island biogeography, which I developed with the mathematician Robert MacArthur in the 1960s.

Island biogeography takes into account the size of an island and its distance from the nearest island or mainland ecosystem to predict the number of species living there; the more isolated an ecosystem, the fewer species it supports. After much experimentation and a growing understanding of how this theory works, it is being applied to the planning of conservation areas.

So how do we know which places require protection under the definition of Half-Earth? In general, three overlapping criteria have been suggested by scientists. They are, first, areas judged best in number and rareness of species by experienced field biologists; second, “hot spots,” localities known to support a large number of species of a specific favored group such as birds and trees; and third, broad-brush areas delineated by geography and vegetation, called ecoregions.


Land and Marine areas that currently have protected status

15 Responses to “Saving a Diverse Planet”

    • redskylite Says:

      Bees are premier pollinators, but I was surprised to see how important bats and others are in the process.

      Lizards, mice, bats and other vertebrates are important pollinators too

      The exclusion of bat pollinators had a particularly strong effect on their plant consorts, reducing fruit production by 83 percent, on average. Bats pollinate about 528 plant species worldwide, including crops like dragon fruit, African locust beans, and durian, Southeast Asia’s “King of Fruits.” The authors speculate that chiropterophilous, or bat-pollinated, plants are unusually dependent on just a few, related species to carry their pollen.

    • redskylite Says:

      “It is one of the most cunning and elaborate reproductive deceits: the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) wafts a floral bouquet into the air that mimics the irresistible scent of a virgin female solitary mining bee, tricking gullible male bees into attempting intercourse with several flowers, thereby ensuring the plant’s pollination.

      But the sexual success of this rare and declining orchid in Britain is imperilled by climate change, researchers have found.

      The orchid’s ruse only works if a female mining bee, Andrena nigroaenea, has not emerged from hibernation, because as soon as this happens, the orchid cannot compete with the alluring scent of the real thing – and the plant is ignored by the male bees.”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Timely post and a reminder we share this planet with other beings. Nearly every week I read sad articles on declining numbers, don’t we realise eventually this will include humans, why should we be exempt. ?

    “In New Hampshire, the moose population had dropped from 7,500 to 4,500 from the 1990s to 2014, the emaciated bodies of cows, bulls and calves bearing similar infestations of ticks. These magnificent animals were literally being bled to death.”

  2. redskylite Says:

    Walleye Fish Populations Are in Decline
    Study a Warning Signal for Popular Game Fish

    “‘Something is not right’
    For the study, researchers analyzed production statistics collected between 1990 and 2012 for adult walleye populations in Wisconsin lakes. They found that annual walleye production across all lakes decreased by 27 percent during that time. It takes 1.5 times longer to produce the same amount of walleye biomass, or fish weight, now as it did in 1990.

    Lakes experiencing declines are often stocked with walleye to make up for a loss in natural production. However, the data show that stocked lakes have seen larger declines in walleye production. Lakes with a mixture of both stocked and naturally reproducing walleye experienced declines of 47 percent, while lakes with only stocking and no natural reproduction declined by 63 percent.

    “This is a clear warning sign that something is not right,” said lead author Andrew Rypel, an ecologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources during the time of the study. ”

  3. redskylite Says:

    Norfolk’s iconic swallowtail butterfly at risk from climate change

    Norfolk’s butterflies, bees, bugs, birds, trees and mammals are at major risk from climate change as temperatures rise — according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

    Researchers carried out the first in-depth audit of its kind for a region in the UK to see how biodiversity might be impacted in Norfolk as the world warms.

  4. redskylite Says:

    “Climate Change Threatens Bird Migrations, Habitats In San Diego County

    Birds are looked upon as messengers when it comes to climate change. They’re highly reactive to changes in the environment, and the most studied species on the planet. Predicting which species will adapt to a changing habitat is difficult, said Unitt. Some will learn to live and feed in urban environments.

    What is clear is many bird species are increasingly losing their habitats, and the effects of climate change are just beginning, said Dan Cayan, a research meteorologist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography.”

  5. redskylite Says:

    5 Plants and Animals Utterly Confused by Climate Change

    Global warming is causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late in many places, and not all species are adapting at the same rate.

  6. redskylite Says:

    Increase of plant species on mountain tops is accelerating with global warming

    Over the past 10 years, the number of plant species on European mountain tops has increased by five-times more than during the period 1957-66. Data on 302 European peaks covering 145 years shows that the acceleration in the number of mountain-top species is unequivocally linked to global warming.

    It is not as lonely at the top as it used to be.

    At least not for plants which, due to global warming, are increasingly finding habitats on mountain tops that were formerly reserved for only the toughest and most hardy species.

  7. redskylite Says:

    And who is picked to oversee the Interior’s Wildlife Policy . . .

    A fierce opponent of the Endangered Species Act is picked to oversee Interior’s wildlife policy

    Susan Combs, a former Texas state official who compared proposed endangered species listings to “incoming Scud missiles” and continued to fight the Endangered Species Act after she left government, now has a role in overseeing federal wildlife policy.

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