Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
The story: Researchers found that a significant number of ancient baobab trees are beginning to collapse and die, Chris Mooney of The Washington Post reported on June 11. The baobab tree can live to be thousands of years old and is an instantly recognizable symbol of Africa. Although further research is necessary, the scientists believe the changing climate is a key driver of the baobab die-off.
The big picture: The loss of the baobab tree is significant considering the history and culture attached to these trees — which are also a key food source for people. The largest trees are dying off first. “The largest trees, they need more water and nutrients than the smaller trees and they are most affected by temperature increase and drought,” said Adrian Patrut, a researcher from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and one of the authors of the study.
Read more here.
The story: A recent study found that one in five wild animals are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in Britain, Damian Carrington of The Guardian reported on June 13. The analysis shows the extinctions are likely to occur with the next decade — the most at risk being Scottish wildcats, black rats, hedgehogs, rabbits and water voles. The main causes of these extinctions are deforestation and farming, which threaten the species’ habitats.
The big picture: Habitat destruction caused by humans is accelerating the rate of extinctions around the world. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List (the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species), 85 percent of animal extinctions happen because of habitat loss and degradation. In recent years, countries and corporations are ramping up their commitments to cut down fewer trees and plant more of them. “This is happening on our own doorstep, so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever,” said Fiona Mathews, chair of the Mammal Society at the University of Sussex.
Read more here.
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The story: Antarctica’s ice sheet is pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean — causing the sea level to rise by a half-millimeter every year, reported Chris Mooney of The Washington Post on June 13. This melting rate has nearly tripled in the past decade, reinforcing the urgent need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions continue at this rate, sea-level rise could surpass a centimeter each year.
The big picture: Sea-level rise is already affecting places around the world. Residents of small island nations such as Kiribati, comprising 33 islands in the central Pacific that straddle the equator and the International Dateline, are among the world’s first climate change refugees due to sea-level rise. Coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses and other oceanic habitats rely on shallow waters to survive. As the sea level continues to rise, these ecosystems endure extreme stress. “The kinds of changes that we see today, if they were not to increase much more … then maybe we’re talking about something that is manageable for coastal stakeholders,” said Rob DeConto, an Antarctic expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Read more here.
Jessica Pink is an editorial intern for Conservation International.
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