Accelerating extinction rates will trigger a domino effect of biodiversity loss — a global issue

The issue has gained attention ahead of the International Day of Biological Diversity, which is held on May 22 each year, and is featured in the latest edition of the United Nations University. Interrelated disaster risks report.

Among the animals at risk is the gopher tortoise, one of the oldest extant species on Earth. This tragic story of biodiversity loss is unfolding in the heart of the southern United States' coastal plain.

Ecosystem “architect”

But declining turtle numbers aren't just a problem for their survival as a species, as these charismatic creatures also play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of coastal areas.

Gopher tortoises are more than just habitat dwellers. They are architects, shaping ecosystems and providing sanctuary for over 350 other species. Using their front legs to act like shovels, they dig burrows that are 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) long and 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.5 meters) deep.

From small insects to large amphibians, each creature plays an important role in the complex ecological web of life these burrows provide. Gopher tortoise burrows provide a safe haven for some creatures to breed and raise their young, and a place of respite from predators and nature for others.

If gopher tortoises were to disappear, it could have a domino effect throughout the ecosystem.

Most at risk is the endangered dusky gopher frog, a species already on the brink of extinction. The disappearance of turtles is likely to also jeopardize the survival of frogs, as they rely on turtle burrows for shelter and survival.

Although now protected in most regions, gopher tortoises were once widely eaten in the southern United States.


The role of humans

The United Nations University has shed further light on co-extinction, showing that intense human activities such as land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species are accelerating extinctions by at least tens to hundreds of times. He said there was. Faster than the natural process of extinction.

For example, over 400 vertebrate species have been lost in the past 100 years. The report therefore includes six interrelated 'risk tipping points' where extinctions are accelerating.

Such a point is reached when, primarily as a result of human action, the systems on which humanity relies fail to buffer risks and cease to function as expected.

extinction begets extinction

As the examples of gopher tortoises and gopher frogs illustrate, ecosystems are built on complex networks of connections between different species.

The domino effect could wipe out even more species and ultimately lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems.

Approximately one million plant and animal species are currently under threat, and the ripple effects of the extinction of a single species can affect countless other species and disrupt important ecological functions.

The endangered sea otter is another example of complex dependencies within an ecosystem. They call the kelp forests of the Pacific Ocean their home and were once abundant, but they are now locally endangered due to being relentlessly hunted for their fur in the past.

In a finely tuned ecological dance, sea otters prey on sea urchins and prevent their population from growing uncontrollably. Without the otters, these spiny herbivores would flourish, turning lush kelp forests into desolate “urchin barrens.”

But the extinction of sea otters could have implications beyond just the disappearance of kelp, the United Nations University says. More than 1,000 species depend on these underwater havens for their very survival, including sharks, turtles, seals, whales, birds, and many fish.

Accelerating extinction: triggering a domino effect of biodiversity loss

create the future we want

Addressing the biodiversity crisis requires a multifaceted approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of risks and solutions.

The theme of the International Day for Biodiversity calls on everyone to support the implementation of the Biodiversity Plan adopted in 2022, which sets targets and concrete measures to halt and reverse the loss of nature by 2050.

Zita Sevesvary, deputy director of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and lead author of the paper, said one of the goals is to reduce the extinction rate of all species tenfold by mid-century. , said this includes increasing numbers of native wild species to healthy and resilient levels. Interrelated disaster risks report.

“Adaptation strategies such as restoring and protecting green corridors between animal habitats provide some respite, but this goal cannot be achieved as long as there is a risk of accelerating extinction, so “Tackling natural extinction drivers remains important,” she explained.

In the long term, avoiding extinction and co-extinction will be the only real solution to halting biodiversity loss, and this requires a shift in thinking.

“Conservation efforts need to go beyond individual species and encompass entire ecosystems,” Ms. Sebesvary said.

“Urgent and decisive action is required to maintain the resilience of ecosystems and ensure the survival of Earth's diverse web of life. Our fate is inevitably intertwined with the fate of the natural world. Recognizing that nature is an integral part of our culture is essential to ensuring a sustainable future.”

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