Seeking Solutions: Half-Earth Project

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In recent posts we have highlighted findings from a couple of recent studies describing the dramatic decline in avian populations in North America over the last  last 30-40 years. Like many of you, we see the decrease in avian population as a harbinger for the rest of life on earth predicting  a massive decline in biodiversity resulting from the mass extinction of species of all kinds. Protecting  ecosystems and thus the species that inhabit them will be no small task and indeed feels overwhelming.

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One group that is attempting to protect and preserve biodiversity is The Half Earth project founded by Edward O Wilson. Their stated mission is to:

“conserve half the land and sea in order to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity and ensure the long-term health of our planet.”

Half-Earth recently held their annual conference and have posted videos of the lectures on their website. We are working our way through the lectures and hope you can find the time to view a couple that interest you. Be it large or small we need to find time to seek solutions even though we may feel overwhelmed.

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The importance of wilderness

“Wilderness areas act as a buffer against species loss, as the extinction risk for species within wilderness communities is—on average—less than half that of species in non-wilderness communities.” 1

A recent study published in the Journal Nature titled “Wilderness Areas Half The Extinction Risk of Terrestrial Biodiversity” mapped several locations around the world where maintaining wilderness areas should be a priority. The first statement the authors make in the abstract in this paper really hit the nail on the head for me.

“Reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss is a major challenge facing humanity, as the consequences of biological annihilation would be irreversible for humankind. 1

In this single sentence the authors make clear that the steady march of human activity, as currently, conducted could potential be catastrophic to all life on earth.

“Wilderness areas act as a buffer against species loss, as the extinction risk for species within wilderness communities is—on average—less than half that of species in non-wilderness communities.” 1

The paper points to several locations on the plant especially important to protect yet the authors also state that all wilderness areas have intrinsic conservation value thus we can all play a role by supporting local conservation efforts of wilderness area near to each of us. Below we showcase a few wilderness area we have recently spent time in. They are both beautiful as well as safe havens for biodiversity.

Click any photo for slide show.

Absoroka-Beartooh and Lee Metcalf wilderness areas.

References:

1. Reference: Di Marco, M., Ferrier, S., Harwood, T.D. et al. Wilderness areas halve the extinction risk of terrestrial biodiversity. Nature 573, 582–585 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1567-7

For a short summary of the article visit Science daily.

A couple of groups that support the missions of wilderness as a buffer for biological diversity are:
The Wilderness Society
The Half-Earth Project

On the talus slope

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I never get disappointed when I hear the little chirp of a Pika moving about on the talus slopes. Always spotting us before we spot them. usually sitting still and looking out into their environment then scurrying off to collect plants for winter larder. The Pika is yet another species threaten by climate change and the focus of this short video in Smithsonian Magazine.

It is encouraging that some Pika may be showing behavior adaptation to a loss of habitat resulting from climate change but as the authors of a recent study concludes “while many species have a clear capacity to modulate behavior in relation to variations in climate parameters,much remains to be learned about the trade-offs, fitness implications, and limitations of behavioral flexibility in the context of novel climate dynamics.”

I sure hope these little guys are able to adapt to the new reality imposed upon them by our species. A walk on the talus slopes without them would be a lonely walk indeed.

Three Billion Birds: follow-up.

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We recently linked to a study finding that over 3 billion birds have been lost from the ecosystem in North America as well as a study indicating that perhaps 66% of North American Birds are threatened with extinction resulting form anthropogenic climate change.

For those who are interested we just received an email informing us of an online presentation this Monday evening Nov, 4th at 7pm EST by Dr. Ken Rosenberg of the Cornell Laboratory of Orinthology titled “3 Billion Birds Gone: The Bird Crisis and What We Can Do About It“. Importantly it looks like this presentation will focus on the broader implication of the results of these findings beyond birds.

Looks to be an interesting presentation.

Will Most Birds Go Extinct?

Earlier this fall it was reported that over 3 billion birds or almost 1/3 the bird population has been lost in North America due to human enterprises. A new report from the Audubon Society demonstrates that about 66% of bird species in North America may be threatened with extinction resulting from anthropogenic climate change. The full report can be found here. The findings of this study are bleak to say the least. When you consider the fact that this report only focuses on climate change and does not consider other anthropogenic factors such as habitat destruction, pollution etc. a dark picture of a world with no birds could certainly be painted. Mass extinction events like the one we are in typically don’t end well for most species humans included. The report indicates that if we take action ASAP to reduce the rate and extent of warming there may be a ray of hope. How do you feel about living in a world without birds?

Click photo for slide show.

A Pikas Song

One of my favorite animals to inhabit the alpine tundra and one I always think of as summer turns to fall is the American Pika. Scurrying about above the tree-line diligently gathering vegetation to stock their winter larder. The Pika is adapted to live year-round in the harsh alpine environment. However tough they may be climate change poses a significant danger to the continued existence of the Pika and in the lower regions of North America have already lost up to 1/3 of their previous habitat to climate change.

It would be a sad day indeed if a hike through the alpine tundra was devoid of a pikas song.

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A little Pika peeking out from the last of winters snow surveying his domain.

The numbers of Pika are decreasing across the Western United States and climate change, habitat loss and other factors are likely involved. Hearing their chirps while hiking in the mountains is a sound I enjoy and I hope it does not just become a memory.

https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/97/6/1495/2628942
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180501085303.htm