Re-wilding the planet

“If you were in a plane and were told you had lost 16% of the parts since you took off, how happy would you be?” Andy Purvis, Imperial College London.

Latimeria ChalumaeIt seems that over the last 500 years we have lost on average 16% of species across the globe, and up to 40% in Europe, the US corn belt and the Himalayas, owing largely to the spread of intensive agriculture and urbanisation (the two being interlinked).

However, new and extraordinarily rich computer models developed by the Predicts project of up to 500 separate ecosystems from across the planet, based on detailed data from up to 10,000 ecosystems in 64 countries, are not merely modelling the woe of species loss but could be used to model solutions, according to an article in the New Scientist.

For instance, the impact of intensive farming on biodiversity seems, paradoxically, to be less severe than that of more extensive, wildlife-friendly farming, since it uses so much less land.

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Nothing can guarantee the return of forgotten species (such as the coelacanth, above), but there are some encouraging stories.

Last week with a student I watched the following short talk by George Monbiot. Monbiot is talking about something he calls re-wilding – reintroducing wilderness ecosystems across the world – and in particular about the extraordinary effects of reintroducing a handful of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the USA in the 1990s, including changes in river flow and the return of birds of prey.

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