QUEENSLAND, Australia — Happy Earth Week! While we celebrate our planet, it’s also important educate ourselves about the “human footprint” so we can make more environmentally-conscious decisions in the future. To that end, a recent study conducted by an international team of researchers shows that humans have greatly disturbed wildlife species spanning the Earth.
Researchers, led by scientists from the University of Queensland, used comprehensive data on the “human footprint,” a quantitative analysis of the influence humans have had across the globe. They calculated intense human pressures across the geographical ranges of 20,529 terrestrial vertebrate species. The geographical range of a species is the area where it can be found during its lifetime.
“Human pressures” include things that have made severe modifications to the global landscape. This includes high population density; road and railway construction; the conversion of big pieces of land into urban areas, farmland, pastureland, factories, and electrical power infrastructure; and the use of cherished natural lands for things like forestry, mining and large water dams.
Further analysis shows that 17,517 species have greater than 50% of their geographical range exposed to intense human pressures. Perhaps even more alarmingly, the geographical ranges of another 3,328 species have been completely exposed to modifications by mankind. This means that the homes of many species have been largely or entirely overrun by human activity.
“Our work shows that a large proportion of terrestrial vertebrates have nowhere to hide from human pressures ranging from pastureland and agriculture all the way to extreme urban conglomerates,” explains lead author Christopher O’Bryan in a release.
Researchers reflect on how these shocking results can improve how species’ vulnerability is measured and can help us reach our international goals for environmental conservation. The analysis finds that there are another 2,748 species considered “least concern,” but many of their geographical ranges are facing human pressures. These species might be at risk of decline, and humanity must respond quickly to protect them.
“Given the growing human influence on the planet, time and space are running out for biodiversity, and we need to prioritize actions against these intense human pressures,” says senior author James Watson. “Using cumulative human pressure data, we can identify areas that are at higher risk and where conservation action is immediately needed to ensure wildlife has enough range to persist.”
The study is published in Global Ecology and Conservation.