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 user 2007-12-28 at 12:23:00 pm Views: 54
  • #19298

    Humans ‘drive out large mammals’
    80% of the Earth’s surface has experienced a sharp fall in the number
    of large mammals as a result of human activities, a study suggests.By
    examining records dating back to AD1500, US researchers found that at
    least 35% of mammals over 20kg had seen their range cut by more than
    half.They said urgent action was needed to protect the animals, which
    were being hunted or suffering habitat loss.

    The findings have been published in the Journal of Mammalogy.
    research, carried out by a team of scientists from Princeton University
    and conservation group WWF-US, has been described as the first
    “measurement of human impacts on biodiversity based on the absence of
    native, large mammals”.”Perhaps the most striking result of our study
    is that [the] 109 places that still retain the same roster of large
    mammals as in AD1500 are either small, intensively managed reserved or
    places of extremes,” revealed lead author John Morrison, WWF-US’s
    director of conservation measures.”Remote areas are either too hot,
    dry, wet, frozen [or] swampy to support intensive activities.”

    researchers compared the current ranges of the world’s largest 263 land
    mammals with their distribution 500 years ago.The species that suffered
    the greatest loss were “habitat generalists”, including tigers,
    leopards, lions, American bison, elk and wolves.Geographically,
    Australasia fared best, holding on to 68% of its large mammals. At the
    other end of the scale, South-East Asia only had 1% of the mega fauna
    that roamed the region in AD1500.In their paper, the scientists
    explained why large mammals were so important for maintaining the
    ecological equilibrium.”Large carnivores frequently shape the number,
    distribution and behaviour of their prey,” the researchers wrote.”Large
    herbivores function as ecological engineers by changing the structure
    and species composition of surrounding vegetation.”Furthermore, both
    sets of mammals profoundly influence the environment beyond direct
    species interactions, such as through [the food chain].”

    chief scientist Eric Dinerstein said he hoped the findings would help
    focus conservation efforts.”We can now pinpoint places where large
    mammal assemblages still play important roles in terrestrial
    ecosystems,” he explained.”Through strategic re-introductions – such as
    returning wolves to Yellowstone – we can restore… places missing one
    or two species and recover the ecological fabric of these important
    conservation landscapes.”