Human Impact on Ecosystems

Nature Ecology and Evolution celebrates Earth Day with a selection of its own research papers and opinion pieces on various topics related to human impacts on ecosystems.
Human Impact on Ecosystems

Our selection covers several facets of human impact on ecosystems: biodiversity loss, pollution, conservation, landscape use and exploitation of natural resources; with focus on terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms.

Comment: Changing the agriculture and environment conversation

In this Comment, Elena Bennett argues it is time to move on from a narrow focus on food production and its impact on biodiversity to a broad view of all aspects of human well-being and how ecosystem services can secure them.

Comment: Bolster legal boundaries to stay within planetary boundaries

Biodiversity legislation is a powerful tool to stop human actions that affect the ecological integrity of the planet. However, politicians often use tactics to render environmental legislation less effective. Chapron et al. calls for an active role of conservation scientists in environmental litigation and political lobbying.

Comment: Making sure the blue economy is green

Ocean industrialization is growing quickly. In this Comment, Golden et al. offer policy recommendations for governance, finance and industry and the supply chain, all necessary to ensure sustainable ocean industrialization.

Article: Human population growth offsets climate-driven increase in woody vegetation in sub-Saharan Africa

Brandt et al. document changes in woody vegetation and human population over two decades in sub-Saharan Africa. They find opposing trends in woody cover between drylands and humid zones (an increase in drylands and decrease in humid zones), which are associated with human population growth.

Brief Communication: Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the deepest ocean fauna

Jamieson et al. report significant levels of persistent organic pollutants in amphipod fauna from two of the deepest ocean trenches, the Mariana Trench in the North Pacific, and the Kermadec Trench in the South Pacific. These high levels of persistent organic pollutants reveal bioaccumulation of anthropogenic contamination in these remote habitats.

Article: Human exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events

Extreme wildfires have been increasing in frequency and are associated with climate change. Bowman et al. builds a global database of extreme wildfires and show that human population growth and climate change are associated with the severity of wildfires. Suburban landscapes are particularly prone to extreme wildfires but differences in occurrences between regions with similar climates suggest that land use influences the magnitude of fire disasters.

Article: Cross-realm assessment of climate change impacts on species’ abundance trends

Identifying the relative importance of the main drivers of changes in species abundance over time is challenging. Bowler et al. estimate the relative strengths of climate change, land-use change, pollution and exploitation driving abundance trends in more than a thousand terrestrial, freshwater and marine populations across Europe. They find a consistent impact of temperature on terrestrial communities, but variable impacts on freshwater and marine realms.

Article: Global marine protected areas to prevent extinctions

Marine protected areas are designed to conserve biodiversity and are designed to include a broad taxonomic breath. However, they typically do not account for the conservation status of species and as a consequence threatened species are often outside protected areas. Davidson & Dulvy use hotspot analysis, an approach that focuses on threatened and endemic species, to identify regions that require conservation action to preserve sharks, rays and chimaeras. They suggest reconfiguration of marine protect areas and identify nations that need targeted action to reconcile fisheries and conservation.

Article: Recent extinctions disturb path to equilibrium diversity in Caribbean bats

Evaluating the impact of humans on natural communities requires a good understanding of changes of biodiversity over time. Valente et al. take advantage of the good fossil record of Caribbean bats and combine it with data on extant bats to model diversity dynamics in these islands. They show that while species richness has reached equilibrium in the past, the equilibrium was severely disturbed by humans: anthropogenic activity caused extinction of a third of island lineages.

Article: Identifying species threat hotspots from global supply chains (Moran & Kanemoto)

Natural resources are commonly exploited for international trade. Moran & Kanemoto identify global hotspots of threats to wildlife directly linked to international trade. They produce maps that explicitly link exploitation of natural resources in one country with consumption in another. Watch the maps in this video:

Title photo is by vincent desjardin and is reproduced with no change. CC BY 2.0

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