Humanity has a massive impact on wildlife across the world, new research found.
A new study looking into the impact of human activities on wildlife reports that a staggering number of terrestrial vertebrate species are exposed to ‘intense’ human pressure, spelling trouble ahead for biodiversity and the integrity of wild ecosystems.
Wild no more
“Given the growing human influence on the planet, time and space are running out for biodiversity, and we need to prioritize actions against these intense human pressures,” says Said senior author James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Queensland.
“Using cumulative human pressure data, we can identify areas that are at higher risk and where conservation action is immediately needed to ensure wildlife has enough range to persist. “
Using the most comprehensive dataset on the human footprint to date — this maps the net impact of human activity on a given surface of land — a new study looked at the pressure humanity is exerting on 20,529 terrestrial vertebrate species. Roughly 85% of that number (or 17,517 species) have half of their range exposed to ‘intense’ human pressure, and 16% (3,328 species) are exposed throughout the entirety of their range, the team found.
Terrestrial vertebrates with small ranges were impacted most heavily, they add. A further 2,478 species considered ‘least concern’ have large portions of their range overlapping with areas of intense human pressure, which may place them at risk of decline.
The Human Footprint dataset the team used takes into account the impact of human habitation (population density, dwelling density), accessways (roads, rail), land-use (urban areas, agriculture, forestry, mining, large dams), and electrical power infrastructure (utility corridors). These factors are known to put pressure on local wildlife and are driving the high extinction rates seen today.
While the findings are pretty grim, the team hopes they can be used to better assess which species are buckling under the human footprint, which would allow us to better conserve them and the habitats they live in. The data, they explain, can aid current assessments of progress against the 2020 Aichi Targets — especially Target 12, which deals with preventing extinctions, and Target 5, which deals with preventing loss of natural habitats.
“Our work shows that a large proportion of terrestrial vertebrates have nowhere to hide from human pressures ranging from pastureland and agriculture all the way to extreme urban conglomerates,” says Christopher O’Bryan of the University of Queensland, the study’s lead author.
The paper “Intense human pressure is widespread across terrestrial vertebrate ranges” has been published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.