Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 20: Amazon tree transpiration crucial to keep rainforest wet

The individual trees in the Amazon rainforest play a crucial role in keeping the rainforest intact. Not just because the trees together create the forest, but also because – together – they create the climate (through something called the shallow moisture convection pump).

Take home message: in order to preserve the Amazon, deforestation really has to stop completely. A ‘meeting in the middle’ compromise does not work – as (amplified by global climate change) that promotes devastating droughts in the remaining part of the forest.

Amazon rainforest - artist impression of deforestation, WWF ad
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 19: Earth has 60,065 tree species, almost half threatened

When we think of the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction we may think of coral reefs, birds, amphibians and iconic mammal species – essentially following the IUCN Red List.

But it really is time we started to take a closer look at trees. Their total biodiversity is far larger – and if we can make a blunt statement: it’s also more important.

Tree biodiversity per biome (ecozone) on Earth
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 18: Widespread effects ‘biodiversity redistribution’ unaccounted

We can all imagine that climate change-driven migration of species will have global consequences. But what do the actual effects look like – and how do these feed back on ecology, climate and human societies?

effects of 'biodiversity redistribution' (climate change-driven species migration)
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 17: These 6 killers still bigger drivers than warming – IUCN study

An analysis of IUCN’s Red List of endangered species places 10 drivers of the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction in order of severity. It concludes that classical environmental threats like deforestation, hunting and overfishing – in 2016 – still top the list of biodiversity killers.

Anthropogenic climate change is currently affecting 19 percent of species that are listed as threatened or near-threatened – making it the 7th extinction driver. (Stating the obvious: this position will change, as temperatures continue to rise.)

Current drivers of the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction - IUCN study
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 16: Land use & warming exert same stress on tropical biodiversity

Anthropogenic climate change and land use change in the form of agricultural expansion (‘habitat conversion’ – a sweet description for deforestation) act as synergistic drivers of biodiversity loss – in a Costa Rican environmental experiment – literally drying out the natural diversity of species, bird species at least.

Biodiversity loss from drought and expansion of agriculture
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 15: On 65% Earth surface biodiversity is beyond safe limit

Again, the use of a geographical approach (and here defining biodiversity as ‘biotic intactness’) shows the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction is progressing faster then generally thought – and ‘biodiversity safe limits’, however arbitrarily defined, have already been passed on most of the planet’s land surface.

Regional biodiversity intactness
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 14: Vertebrates in general decline, mass extinction underestimated

Whether you focus on mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians – land vertebrates are in rapid decline everywhere around us, illustrating a general decline of Life on Earth – and a prelude to the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction, that is being underestimated in speed and severity.

The reason of this underestimation: demography – the decline of species populations. This is not always counted in when assessing the global ecological crisis, but if you do, you get to see that the actual trend is much worse than most people think…

population extinction land vertebrates
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 13: Being small is no guaranteed climate change survival strategy

If you live inside a heap of compost in someone’s backyard, your life may already feel quite miserable. But if you’re really tiny, at least you’re probably thinking your chances of surviving climate chance are –comparatively– okay.

Well, our dear little springtail –we hate to bring it to you– but science may have bad news. Sometimes it’s just not fair.

Small species do not always have survival advantage under climate change
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 12: Improving ecosystem health decreases climate extinctions

If what goes for worms goes for the wider world, there is an important lesson to be learned: in order to prevent extinctions, we need to improve ecosystem health – before climate change kicks in.

That is because ecosystems with larger natural diversity have better adaptive mechanisms – allowing the preservation of more biodiversity.

Biodiversity protects against climate extinctions - plant & nematode species
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 11: New climate-biodiversity models better; now need more data

Predictive models that can forecast biodiversity decline under anthropogenic climate change used to be too simplistic, as these ignored crucial biological mechanisms such as demography, dispersal, evolution, and species interactions (for instance species competition and ecosystem dependence).

Fortunately these climate-biodiversity models are improving. But in order to also improve the quality of their biodiversity predictions these improved models now require more – and better data.

Improving climate-biodiversity models
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