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article imageNew species extinction warning

By Tim Sandle     May 3, 2015 in Environment
New research suggests that around 60 percent of the planet's giant herbivores - plant-eaters - including rhinos, elephants and gorillas, are at risk of extinction.
This warning comes from a survey published in the journal Science Advances ("Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores"). The research has been led by William Ripple, of the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University.
In the paper, the scientists have looked at population data relating to 74 different herbivores. The qualifier was that each animal needed to weigh over 100 kilos to be included in the study. This embraced a range of animals from reindeer to elephants.
The reason for the alarming predictive declines are multi-faceted and include habitat loss, hunting for meat or body parts, and competition for food and resources with livestock. At biggest risk is the rhinoceros. Given that a rhinoceros horn is worth more than gold, diamonds or cocaine on illegal markets, rhinos could be extinct, the researchers warn, in the wild within 20 years in Africa. It was through hunting that Africa's western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011.
The impact is not just with herbivores for there is also a knock on effect with carnivores: a dwindling food source. In other words, as herbivore numbers fall so, ultimately, with carnivores for there will be fewer animals for the predators to feed upon. This is is likely to impact lions, leopards, and hyena the most.
Herbivores also perform other functions where, if their numbers fall, ecological issues could arise. For example, elephants help to clear forest by trampling down vegetation. Other herbivores help with seed dispersal.
As a remedy, the authors call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries. Otherwise, the future looks bleak. Talking with BBC Science, Professor Ripple warns: "The process of declining animals is causing an empty landscape in the forest, savannah, grasslands and desert."
More about Extinction, Animals, herbivores
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