Climate change and habitat conversion are flattening biodiversity

Climate change and habitat conversion are two phenomena whose damaging impacts are well-documented (unless, of course, President Trump has anything to do with things). But the impact of these seminal global changes are rarely considered in conjunction…until now. A study published in the scientific journal Global Change Biology has confirmed that the combined onset of climate change and habitat conversion has and will continue to promote the homogenisation of species.

Climate change and habitat conversion are flattening biodiversity

The study’s authors focused on the diverse region of northwest Costa Rica, surveying birds and plants at 120 sites, from farmland to rainforests. The region typifies the seismic environmental changes ongoing throughout Central and South America. “[W]e are seeing large areas being converted from native forest to agriculture, and droughts are becoming more frequent,” explained lead author of the study Daniel Karp, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife. “Both of these global pressures are favoring the same species and threatening the same species This means we may be losing biodiversity faster than we previously thought when we were studying climate change and habitat conversion individually.”

This dynamic manifested itself thus: the researchers found that, in forests, different species of birds prospered in drier areas, rather than wetter ones. Meanwhile, agricultural birds associated with dry sites proliferated all over the farmlands, even in the wettest areas. Karp confirms that birds that dwell in wetter rainforests are the most at risks, including resplendent tropical species such as the rainbow-hued tanager, the big-headed manakin (endearingly and etymologically linked to the Dutch word for “little man”), and the hawkish woodcreeper.


Meanwhile, birds found in farmlands – doves, blackbirds, and sparrows – bore remarkable similarities to those dwelling in dry forests. As the climate spikes, droughts creep in, and native forest is quashed in the quest for agricultural land, these types of birds will prevail, at the expense of their aquatically-inclined counterparts.

In the spirit of preserving the wetlands, Karp channelled a glass-half-full mentality: “Now we know this, we know what to focus on from a conservation perspective.” Land protection should be geared towards wetter forests that are expected to remain wet, in order to bolster conservation and maintain biodiversity. Measures could also be taken to incentivise private landowners in wet regions to monitor and maintain wet zones in their farms to allow endangered species to prosper.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a book deal, the sequel to Darwin’s epic Origin is unfolding before our very eyes: The Homogenisation of Species. Why not capitalise on nature’s demise? The rest of the world already has.

Image: Christian Lorenz, used under Creative Commons 

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