“The really awful predications about rapid, massive extinction appear to be true” — Jeremy Kerr, University of Ottawa
“Unless we do something there will be no tigers, lions or bears left in the wild for my grandchildren” — Stuart Pimm, Duke University
Scientists Foresee Extinction Domino Effect
By Stephen Leahy
May 17 (IPS) – Climate change is accelerating species extinctions and unraveling the intricate web of life, experts fear.
Birds, animals, insects and even plants are on the move around the Earth, trying to flee new and increasingly inhospitable local weather conditions. For some, including alpine species and polar bears, there is nowhere to go. And many others, like plants, lack the mobility to stay ahead of changing climatic conditions.
“The really awful predications about rapid, massive extinction appear to be true, according to the early evidence,” Kerr told IPS.
One of those predictions came last year from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), an unprecedented international four-year research effort. The MA warned that up to 30 percent of all species on Earth could vanish by 2050 due to unsustainable human activities.
By 2100, it will be a completely different planet if greenhouse gas emissions continue rising at the current rate. Nearly 40 percent of Earth’s continental surface may experience totally new climates, primarily in the tropics and adjacent latitudes, as warmer temperatures spread toward the poles, said a new study published this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We are going to be seeing climates that certainly are completely outside the range of modern human experience,” said Stephen Jackson of the University of Wyoming in a statement.
Scientists estimate there are between three and 30 million species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and so on, but only 1.4 million have been identified so far.
The importance of species — and the word “biodiversity” — is not well understood by the public, business or politicians. And yet biodiversity — the sum total of all living species — is what gives us air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.
Schoolchildren learn that trees and plants produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, clean water, and so on. However, what is not well understood, even by scientists, is exactly how insects, bacteria, birds, and animals interact with trees and plants to produce the ecological services we rely on, like clean air and water.
The loss of a few species in a forest or the oceans might not result in any obvious immediate changes, but scientists are beginning to connect the dots. One example of a cascade of impacts was recently documented by Canadian and U.S. marine scientists, who found that a dramatic reduction in shark populations along the U.S. east coast has resulted in population booms for rays and skates, which in turn decimated their food supply of shellfish.
The loss of the shellfish has reduced water quality and seagrass beds. The cascade doesn’t stop there, but that is as far as science has been able to track it.
Michael Totten, senior director of Conservation International, a global environmental group, offers another example.
Coastal mangrove forests provide local communities with nearly 90 percent protection from storm surges, studies show. Equally important, mangroves are the nurseries for many species of fish and play a key role in sustaining ocean fish populations, Totten said in an interview.
For complete story click Scientists Foresee Extinction Domino Effect