New study finds link between habitat loss and extinction in northern Amazon forest
New research from the University of British Columbia suggests the loss of forest in the Amazon has been linked to climate change and biodiversity loss.
The research, which will be presented in the journal PLOS ONE on Monday, found that habitat loss during the Amazon rainforest’s last ice age, between 1650 and 1845, was associated with climate change, increased mortality rates of species such as the giant panda and other big cats and a loss of a species of antelope called the antelope-eating hippo.
Dr Chris Stacey, lead author of the study and a professor at the University’s Institute for Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the research showed that the loss in habitat and climate change had been linked in a strong way to the extinction of biodiversity in the region.
“It is pretty clear that climate change has impacted biodiversity loss and species decline,” he said.
In other words, if you are losing habitat, you are going to be affected by climate change.
However, he said this wasn’t the case for the antelopes, which had already lost habitat during the ice age.
“There’s no evidence that climate changed any longer affected the antelephants,” Dr Stacey said.
“It’s pretty much just that the climate changed.”
Climate change, in other words?
That’s a bit more complicated.
According to the new study, a warmer atmosphere during the last ice era was also associated with the disappearance of a large number of species, including the giant panther, which is the largest land mammal in the world and can weigh up to two tons.
The authors also found that a warmer environment also increased the likelihood of drought, which meant that forested areas were more likely to be burned.
This could have an impact on the animals, but also the land.
“The effect of climate change on land use and biodiversity is clear, but we need to think about how it impacts species and habitat,” Dr Chris Stacy said.
Dr Stacey and his colleagues said the findings were also consistent with previous research which showed climate change was likely to affect species in the western Amazon.
“Climate change is a big driver of species loss in the eastern Amazon and the central Amazon basin, but it’s not clear whether that will happen with or without climate change,” he added.
Climate changes are also likely to impact the food chain in the area.
Researchers say there’s a correlation between increased drought and higher rates of extinction of species in areas that experience high rates of food production, such as in Brazil’s Amazon.
The study found that the number of antelope deaths had declined in the northern Amazon since the last glacier retreated, and there were also signs that species were moving back into the forest.
But it was unclear whether the changes in the animals’ habitat would have been as significant as they were.
A recent study in Australia found that species extinction rates had also increased in the central and northern Amazon in the past 15 years.
There’s still much work to be done, but Dr Stacy hopes that the results will provide some clues about the long-term impacts of climate changes on biodiversity.
“These results are important for understanding how biodiversity impacts may change in the future, but they also point to the need to take species management actions that reduce risk of extinction,” he explained.
“In particular, climate change could potentially have a negative impact on species that are currently in the forest.”