Climate change is a ubiquitous threat to species around world. But research by Australian scientists shows that some older, familiar enemies of biodiversity shouldn't be forgotten.
Images of climate change are always arresting: Sometimes they come in the form of melting masses of ice, sometimes as torrential rivers or enduring droughts. The impact is always massive and visually striking and it lasts, regardless of the actual effects global warming is having. Because of that, climate change is often a focus of journalistic coverage and so other threats to biodiversity are pushed to the background, although that doesn't make them any less important.
In an article in the journal Nature, researchers from the University of Queensland in Brisbane (Australia) are calling for a stronger focus on these threats. Among them is the excessive exploitation of natural resources, but also the issues of agriculture and urbanization. Researchers fear that if these problems are ignored, conservation priorities could be misplaced.
In the shadow of climate change
In total, they analyzed almost 8,700 species that are already on the IUCN's Red List of threatened species. They concluded that 72 percent of these species are threatened because humans, especially in industrialized nations, exploit the planet's resources excessively. Deforestation is an example of that. As many as 4,000 of the species they looked at are directly or indirectly affected by deforestation, the tropical Bornean wren-babbler, for example, the Indian Nicobar shrew or Myanmar's snub-nosed monkey, the researchers write.
In urban spaces species aren't necessarily always displaced by urbanization - some of them find new ecological niches.
Since 1987, the excessive consumption of natural resources has been illustrated by the Global Footprint Network as part of "Earth Overshoot Day." The organization marks the day each year when humanity has consumed all the resources it has available for that year. In 1987, that day arrived on December 19, but by 2016, the months it took to arrive at that date had reduced significantly to August 8.
Researchers named agriculture as a second important factor. Its impact shouldn't be forgotten in the face of climate change either. Sixty-two percent of the Red List-species investigated were affected directly by agriculture because their habitats had disappeared to make way for agricultural land. Just the cultivation of grain alone has impacted 4,600 species, among them the Fresno kangaroo rat and the African wild dog. Almost 2.5 billion tons of grain are harvested each year but not even half of that is eaten. Instead, it is turned into animal feed or fuel.
The third underestimated threat listed by the researchers is increasing urbanization, another cause of habitat loss. However, urban spaces are different from agriculture and the exploitation of resources. According the University of Copenhagen study, species aren't necessarily always displaced by urbanization - some of them find new ecological niches.
Generally speaking, most species they investigated face several threats, the researchers wrote. The most important thing is to not only to focus on climate change when it comes to conservation efforts. Climate change could indeed become a major threat to biodiversity in the future, but the so-called 'old enemies' cannot be ignored either.