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  • Writer's pictureCain Blythe

Extinction Watch: What Proactive Strategies Can we Take to Protect Biodiversity and Ecosystems?

Introduction

Species extinction has become a pressing issue, with climate change, human population growth, and land-use change posing significant risks to global biodiversity. A proactive approach to conservation is crucial for addressing this challenge. A recent study, published in Current Biology, highlights the need to use existing data to predict which unthreatened species could become endangered. This approach has the potential to benefit up to 20% of non-marine mammal species by 2100. By considering both scientific predictions and diverse cultural perspectives, it is feasible work towards proactive conservation and rewilding approaches that also respect Indigenous communities and foster human-animal coexistence.


Over-the-Horizon Extinction Risk

The study, led by Marcel Cardillo of Australian National University, introduces the concept of “over-the-horizon” extinction risk. This approach considers species’ biology and projected exposure to severe changes in climate, human population, and land use. The researchers defined four future risk factors: high latent risk, projected change in climate, projected change in human population density, and projected change in land use. Species with two or more of these factors are categorised as particularly vulnerable to future extinction risk. Their models predict that by 2100, up to 20% of non-marine mammal species will have a combination of two or more risk factors, with Sub-Saharan Africa and southern/eastern Australia emerging as future risk hotspots.




Integrating Biodiversity Recovery and Climate Mitigation

To enhance the predictive power of this approach, I believe it is also important to consider other recent evidence, demonstrating that some key mammal species have an outsized benefit to both biodiversity recovery and climate mitigation. Recognising these critical species and prioritising their protection can improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts. Although the study focuses on non-marine mammals, it is reasonable to assume that similar principles may apply to marine mammals as well. The article calls for new thinking that includes the restoration and conservation of wild animals and their ecosystem roles as a key component of natural climate solutions that can enhance the ability to prevent climate warming beyond 1.5°C.




Respecting Indigenous Communities and Fostering Coexistence

Despite the great opportunities presented by such proactive conservation and rewilding approaches, we must also acknowledge the importance of respecting Indigenous communities and approaches that promote human-animal coexistence. Indigenous peoples have a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing ecosystems and wildlife, and their perspectives should be considered in the development of conservation strategies. By promoting dialogue and collaboration between scientists, policymakers, and Indigenous communities, we can create more effective, sustainable, and culturally appropriate conservation solutions.




Conclusion

Research such as that presented in this blog, demonstrates that the time has come to shift our focus from reactive to proactive rewilding. By embracing the concept of "over-the-horizon" extinction risk and integrating biodiversity recovery and climate mitigation strategies, we can more effectively identify and protect vulnerable mammal species. In doing so, we can reduce the devastating impacts of climate change, human population growth, and land-use change on our planet's biodiversity and ecosystems.


However, we must also remember that conservation efforts are most effective when they are inclusive and respect diverse cultural perspectives. By working hand in hand with Indigenous communities and fostering human-animal coexistence, we create a united front. Only through such cooperation and understanding can we ensure a future in which both humans and wildlife can thrive, preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems and the rich tapestry of biodiversity that makes our planet so unique.


Further Reading:
  1. Barnosky, A. D., et al. (2011). Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature.

  2. Cardillo, M., et al. (2023). Anticipating over-the-horizon extinction risk in mammals. Current Biology.

  3. Ceballos, G., et al. (2015). Accelerated modern human-induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances.

  4. Díaz, S., et al. (2019). Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change. Science.

  5. Dirzo, R., et al. (2014). Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Science.

  6. Johnson (2023). Past and future decline and extinction of species. Royal Society.

  7. IPBES (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

  8. Schipper, J., et al. (2008). The status of the world's land and marine mammals: diversity, threat, and knowledge. Science.

  9. Ripple, W. J., et al. (2019). Are we eating the world's megafauna to extinction? Conservation Letters.

  10. Schmitz, O.J., Sylvén, M., Atwood, T.B. et al. (2023). Trophic rewilding can expand natural climate solutions. Nat. Clim. Chang.

  11. WWF (2020). Living Planet Report 2020 - Bending the curve of biodiversity loss.

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