The extinction of most of the world’s remaining megafauna mammals is more or less imminent (over the next few decades) without major changes and improved conservation strategies, according to a public declaration published in the journal BioScience.
The public declaration — which calls for a coordinated global plan to prevent further megafauna extinctions — was signed by over 40 conservation researchers and experts.
The main drivers behind this rapid slide towards mass megafauna extinctions are the same ones that have been in play for centuries and millennia now — the expansion of agriculture and livestock grazing, the attendant wild habitat loss, deforestation, and over-hunting (often owing to demand from the wealthy; ie as with the extinction of the European lion during the growth days of the Roman Republic/Empire owing to a demand for lion pelts).
“The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide for people,” stated Dr William Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.
Roughly 59% of the world’s biggest mammalian carnivore species, and 60% of the largest herbivores, are now categorized as being threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
These animals are of license vitally important to the ecosystems and regions in which they live — the loss of large herds of migrating herbivores is associated with vastly increased rates of desertification in dry-land regions; the loss of large carnivores with attendant ecosystem collapses owing to lack of predators; etc.
“The loss of elephants in the forests of Central Africa is increasingly damaging the function of the region’s most important ecosystems,” noted WCS Conservation Scientist Dr Fiona Maisels, one of the study’s co-authors. “We’re only beginning to understand how vital these keystone species are to the health of rainforests and other species that inhabit them.”
The press release notes that the paper “includes a 13-part declaration that highlights the need to acknowledge the threatened status of many large mammals and the vital ecological roles they play. The declaration also cites the importance of integrating the efforts of scientists and funding agencies in developing countries where many species occur; the need for a new global framework to conserve megafauna; and the moral obligation of saving the world’s biggest mammal species.”
While the megafauna animals in question are of course still in the world, for the time being, they have all suffered an enormous loss of genetic diversity over the last few hundred years — leaving them increasingly susceptible to environmental changes, variation, and to the effects of inbreeding.