Several years ago, experts officially announced the advent of the era of the sixth mass extinction. Today, many species of herbivores and carnivores are endangered. And the greatest danger for them is the growing human need for meat, assured researchers from the University of Oregon.
In the course of the new work, they analyzed data on 300 megafauna species. It turned out that at least 200 of them are experiencing a decline today (that is, they suffer huge numerical losses). At the same time, more than 150 species are endangered.
In their analysis, biologists and ecologists included data on amphibians, birds, reptiles weighing from 40 kilograms, as well as fish and mammals weighing from 100 kilograms. Selected species were large relative to other members of their class. Actually, on this basis – body weight – they are referred to megafauna. And this is the decisive factor when it comes to the risk of extinction.
“Megafauna species are under greater threat and have a higher percentage of population reduction than all other vertebrate species taken together,” said leading author William Ripple.
For comparison, he gives the following data. Over the past 500 years, about 2% of megafauna populations have died out on Earth and only 0.8% of all existing vertebrate populations in general. In addition, over the past 250 years, nine species of megafauna have either disappeared altogether or have ceased to exist in the wild. And the rate of extinction of animals continues to grow.
“Our results show that we are in the process of eating megafaunas. In the future, 70% [of species] will experience a further reduction in the population, and 60% of species may disappear,” said Professor Rippl.
In an article published in the magazine Conservation Letters, his team writes that 98% of megafauna are at risk because of “human consumption of meat or animal body parts.”
For example, the Chinese giant salamander was under threat. Experts call this amphibian a living fossil, because in 170 million years of its existence on Earth the species has not undergone significant changes. Now, its extinction in the wild is considered inevitable, since in Asia the meat of the giant salamanders is a delicacy and is very popular.
Although, of course, the danger is not only the meat diet. Many populations are declining due to illegal hunting and poaching, as well as the use of animal body parts in Asian traditional medicine. Other risk factors include global warming and associated environmental changes, habitat reduction due to deforestation and water pollution.
All these anthropogenic factors adversely affect the representatives of the megafauna. And their disappearance, in turn, attracts large-scale ecosystem shifts.
But the saddest thing is that the more populations are declining and dying today, the more difficult it will be to save biodiversity remains in the future.
“Preserving the remaining megafauna will be a difficult task. Economic arguments, cultural and social obstacles will be against it. But if we do not analyze, criticize and correct our behavior, our“ hunting skills ”can lead to the fact that we will destroy most of the last Earth’s megafauna “- concludes William Rippl.