Study warns humans are causing nature to shrink as large animals disappear

Nature could look unrecognizable within the next century if humans do not become better stewards of the Earth because a new study is warning that large animal species are dying off at an alarming rate.

Over the last 125,000 years, humans have seen the extinction of mammoths and other large animals of the Ice Age era. But modern humans are witnessing perhaps the greatest and, perhaps, last extinction of large animals right now, and the mass die-off threatens to collapse ecosystems we rely on for our own survival.

Research published by Nature Communications projects 1,000 large species of animals from elephants to eagles are set to become extinct over the next 100 years if we do not act immediately to save them.

From the largest creature to the smallest, every species plays a role in an ecosystem that keeps it functioning. As humans, we do not think we rely on these ecosystems, but we do. Animals play roles in spreading seeds, controlling the populations of species that multiply quicker than others, provide food for us among many other roles that we don’t even know about.

But as humans continue to overhunt and overfish, destroy habitats and contribute to climate change, large animals species that kept nature in balance are being driven into extinction, throwing the entire system into chaos.

“It is worrying that we are losing these big species when we don’t know their full role,” University of Southampton’s Robert Cooke said of the research findings. “Without them, things could begin to degrade quite quickly. Ecosystems could start to collapse and become not what we need to survive. If all these extinctions take place, we are fundamentally restructuring life on this planet.”

What we’ll have in place of these large beasts that captured our imaginations and left us in awe is smaller animals that reproduce faster and in greater numbers, which could have a negative impact on other species, particularly insects, which are already under great stress.

In fact, the situation may be worse than the research predicts.

“This study predicts extinction rates that dwarf those recorded between recent ice ages and suggests that larger species are the most vulnerable,” London ZSL Institute of Zoology’s Chris Carbone said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation for many larger animals is worse than the researchers suggest as their decline is exacerbated by selective poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.”

Memorial University in Canada professor Amanda Bates, who worked with Cooke on the research, says there is still hope that we can change the fate of these animals as long as enough animals from threatened species continue to survive.

“As long as a species that is projected to become extinct persists, there is time for conservation action and we hope research such as ours can help guide this,” she said.

While we still have time to act, the question is whether world leaders will do so before it’s too late.

Many nations are making efforts, but it’s just not enough. If we want future generations to be able to see living giraffes, rhinos, big cats and other species instead of just reading about them in a book, it’s up to us to do whatever it takes to save them. Because saving them also means saving ourselves.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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