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201328Sep10:52

Wildlife face ‘Armaged­don’ as forests shrink

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 28 Sep­tem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 26 July 2014
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Species liv­ing in rain­for­est frag­ments could be far more likely to dis­ap­pear than was pre­vi­ously assumed, says an inter­na­tional team of scientists.

Island in Khlong Saeng Valley, Chiew Larn ReservoirIn a study span­ning two decades and pub­lished on 27 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Sci­ence, the researchers wit­nessed the near-​complete extinc­tion of native small mam­mals on for­est islands cre­ated by a large hydro­elec­tric reser­voir in Thailand.

It was like eco­log­i­cal Armaged­don. Nobody imag­ined we’d see such cat­a­strophic local extinctions.
Luke Gib­son, lead author, National Uni­ver­sity of Singapore »

The study is con­sid­ered impor­tant because forests around the world are being rapidly felled and chopped up into small island-​like frag­ments. “It’s vital that we under­stand what hap­pens to species in for­est frag­ments,” said Antony Lynam of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS). “The fate of much of the world’s bio­di­ver­sity is going to depend on it.”

The study was moti­vated by a desire to under­stand how long species can live in for­est frag­ments. If they per­sist for many decades, then this gives con­ser­va­tion­ists a win­dow of time to cre­ate wildlife cor­ri­dors or restore sur­round­ing forests to reduce the harm­ful effects of for­est iso­la­tion. How­ever, the researchers saw native small mam­mals van­ish with alarm­ing speed, with just a hand­ful remain­ing – on aver­age, less than one indi­vid­ual per island – after 25 years.

“There seemed to be two cul­prits,” said William Lau­rance of James Cook Uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia. “Native mam­mals suf­fered the harm­ful effects of pop­u­la­tion iso­la­tion, and they also had to deal with a dev­as­tat­ing invader – the Malayan field rat.” In just a few years, the invad­ing rat grew so abun­dant on the islands that it vir­tu­ally dis­placed all native small mam­mals. The field rat nor­mally favours vil­lages and agri­cul­tural lands, but will also invade dis­turbed forests.

“This tells us that the dou­ble whammy of habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion and invad­ing species can be fatal for native wildlife,” said Lynam. “And that’s fright­en­ing because invaders are increas­ing in dis­turbed and frag­mented habi­tats around the world.”

“The bot­tom line is that we must con­serve large, intact habi­tats for nature,” said Gib­son. “That’s the only way we can ensure bio­di­ver­sity will survive.”

Read also The New York Times’ arti­cle by Carl Zim­mer, here.


(Source: WCS press release, 26.09.2013)

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