A new study, which takes into account 74 largest territorial herbivores, shows that the extinction is occurring faster than scientists thought. According to the report, approximately 60 percent of the large herbivores are threatened with disappearance.
Excessive hunting, destruction of their habitats, deforestation, pollution and resource depression by livestock are just some of the reasons behind the decline in numbers of large herbivores.
The research was conducted by wildlife biologist William Ripple and his colleagues that focused on the data of 74 different species, which weigh, on average, over 220 pounds. The report has also revealed the threats large herbivores encounter, but also ecosystem effects, possible solutions for the problem and the consequences of severe depopulation of both large herbivores and their predators.
“The scale and rate of large herbivore decline suggest that without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs. We have progressed well beyond the empty forest to early views of the “empty landscape” in desert, grassland, savanna, and forest ecosystems across much of planet Earth”, the authors wrote.
More than 60 percent of the threatened animals live in Africa and Southeast Asia and Latin America. These regions are still under development, whereas the more advanced countries from North America and Europe had already lost their large herbivores. The most important threats for the extinction of herbivores are hunting and competition for space with livestock. According to the study, the surface needed for raising cattle has tripled since 1980.
The extinction of large herbivores could gravely affect the Earth’s ecosystem. Frequent and intense wildfires and reduced seed dispersal – tropical large herbivores are dispersing large seeds of tree species which are very important for carbon storage -, but also a weaker cycle of nutrients between plants and soil and dramatic changes in the habitat for smaller animals, birds, rodents, insects and lizards are just some of the consequences. The disappearance of large herbivores would also affect their predators’ populations as well. The scientists warn that if the trend continues, it could indirectly lead to “empty landscapes” on Earth.
“Saving the remaining threatened large herbivores will require concerted action. The world’s wealthier populations will need to provide the resources essential for ensuring the preservation of our global natural heritage of large herbivores. A sense of justice and development is essential to ensure that local populations can benefit fairly from large herbivore protection and thereby have a vested interest in it,” warned Ripple.
Image Source: Daily Times Gazzette