Category Archives: Nature

Wildfire risk can be reduced with agroforestry

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

New forests mean permanently lower river flows

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Humans are set to hijack the fossil record

Humans have made an indelible mark on the planet: they may also have erased most of life’s other stories, distorting the fossil record, the narrative of creation.

LONDON, 2 January, 2020 – US scientists have made a prediction that some yet-to-evolve intelligent species a hundred million years into the future can test. One day the fossil record will be more than usually rich in the complete skeletons of a small number of creatures: pigs, sheep, cattle and humans, many of the last arranged seemingly in ranks.

The assemblage from what many scientists now call the Anthropocene – the geological era dominated by Homo sapiens – will be entirely unlike the pattern of preserved relics from all the other geological eras in the last 500 million years.

“Fossil mammals occur in caves, ancient lake beds and river channels, and are usually only teeth and isolated bones,” said Roy Plotnick, a palaeontologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “Animals that die on farms or in mass death due to disease often end up as complete corpses in trenches and landfills, far from water.”

Also available for study will be a vast array of undisturbed examples of one species that already far outnumbers all other large wild mammals. “In the far future, the fossil record of today will have a huge number of complete hominid skeletons, all lined up in rows.”

The thesis, outlined in the journal The Anthropocene, is a simple one. The evidence of past life preserved in the rocks is the only key to the story of life on Earth, and it has unfolded until now entirely by caprice.

“The future mammal record will be mostly cows, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and people themselves”

Animals that died in the Triassic, Jurassic or the Cretaceous were incompletely preserved. Upon death, they were liable to be dismantled by scavengers, swept away by floods, incinerated by fires, buried by lava or demolished entirely by microbes. Preservation of any kind was entirely a matter of geological caprice and bone structure: soft-bodied animals – and most living things have always been boneless – have almost no chance of preservation.

The North American passenger pigeon astonished the first European settlers. It existed by the billion-fold: one flock could be a mile wide and 200 miles long.

The last survivor perished in 1914 and, says Steve Jones in 1999, in his much-recommended examination of evolutionary insight, Almost Like a Whale, without a written record, no-one would now know it had ever existed: no fossil has ever been found.

The argument by Professor Plotnick and a colleague is a simple one. If preservation in fossilised form is a lottery, humankind has now taken over the management and rigged the odds.

Humans evolved from primate ancestors, but no primate species ever flourished in such numbers. Global population has soared almost eightfold in the last two centuries, and with humans the population of domesticated animals has multiplied dramatically: one species now threatens to eliminate many of the other inhabitants of the planet.

Preservation more probable

The mass of humanity, according to one calculation, long ago began to outweigh the gross mass of all other wild mammals on the planet, by at least 10-fold. And in such numbers, humans and their chosen species should stand a much better chance of preservation far into the future.

Homo sapiens has already fashioned cities, industries and constructions that gross up to trillions of tonnes of cement and metal, and in a few decades laid down a stratum of seemingly indestructible polymer material in the form of plastic cups, bottles, nets, cables and containers.

Erosion, earthquakes and time alone may wipe away many of the scars left by most construction work, but some will survive as evidence that at least one intelligent civilisation made it through evolution’s obstacle race before possibly ensuring its own collapse.

The chances of long-term preservation of the bones of the blue whale, the African lion, the mountain gorilla, the emperor penguin or even the jungle fowl, ancestor of the broiler chicken, will remain vanishingly small. But the factory farms and orderly cemeteries of today will dominate the evidence.

“The chance of a wild animal becoming part of the fossil record has become very small,” said Professor Plotnick. “Instead the future mammal record will be mostly cows, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and people themselves.” – Climate News Network

Humans have made an indelible mark on the planet: they may also have erased most of life’s other stories, distorting the fossil record, the narrative of creation.

LONDON, 2 January, 2020 – US scientists have made a prediction that some yet-to-evolve intelligent species a hundred million years into the future can test. One day the fossil record will be more than usually rich in the complete skeletons of a small number of creatures: pigs, sheep, cattle and humans, many of the last arranged seemingly in ranks.

The assemblage from what many scientists now call the Anthropocene – the geological era dominated by Homo sapiens – will be entirely unlike the pattern of preserved relics from all the other geological eras in the last 500 million years.

“Fossil mammals occur in caves, ancient lake beds and river channels, and are usually only teeth and isolated bones,” said Roy Plotnick, a palaeontologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “Animals that die on farms or in mass death due to disease often end up as complete corpses in trenches and landfills, far from water.”

Also available for study will be a vast array of undisturbed examples of one species that already far outnumbers all other large wild mammals. “In the far future, the fossil record of today will have a huge number of complete hominid skeletons, all lined up in rows.”

The thesis, outlined in the journal The Anthropocene, is a simple one. The evidence of past life preserved in the rocks is the only key to the story of life on Earth, and it has unfolded until now entirely by caprice.

“The future mammal record will be mostly cows, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and people themselves”

Animals that died in the Triassic, Jurassic or the Cretaceous were incompletely preserved. Upon death, they were liable to be dismantled by scavengers, swept away by floods, incinerated by fires, buried by lava or demolished entirely by microbes. Preservation of any kind was entirely a matter of geological caprice and bone structure: soft-bodied animals – and most living things have always been boneless – have almost no chance of preservation.

The North American passenger pigeon astonished the first European settlers. It existed by the billion-fold: one flock could be a mile wide and 200 miles long.

The last survivor perished in 1914 and, says Steve Jones in 1999, in his much-recommended examination of evolutionary insight, Almost Like a Whale, without a written record, no-one would now know it had ever existed: no fossil has ever been found.

The argument by Professor Plotnick and a colleague is a simple one. If preservation in fossilised form is a lottery, humankind has now taken over the management and rigged the odds.

Humans evolved from primate ancestors, but no primate species ever flourished in such numbers. Global population has soared almost eightfold in the last two centuries, and with humans the population of domesticated animals has multiplied dramatically: one species now threatens to eliminate many of the other inhabitants of the planet.

Preservation more probable

The mass of humanity, according to one calculation, long ago began to outweigh the gross mass of all other wild mammals on the planet, by at least 10-fold. And in such numbers, humans and their chosen species should stand a much better chance of preservation far into the future.

Homo sapiens has already fashioned cities, industries and constructions that gross up to trillions of tonnes of cement and metal, and in a few decades laid down a stratum of seemingly indestructible polymer material in the form of plastic cups, bottles, nets, cables and containers.

Erosion, earthquakes and time alone may wipe away many of the scars left by most construction work, but some will survive as evidence that at least one intelligent civilisation made it through evolution’s obstacle race before possibly ensuring its own collapse.

The chances of long-term preservation of the bones of the blue whale, the African lion, the mountain gorilla, the emperor penguin or even the jungle fowl, ancestor of the broiler chicken, will remain vanishingly small. But the factory farms and orderly cemeteries of today will dominate the evidence.

“The chance of a wild animal becoming part of the fossil record has become very small,” said Professor Plotnick. “Instead the future mammal record will be mostly cows, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and people themselves.” – Climate News Network

Food at risk as third of plants face extinction

More than a third of the world’s plants are so rare they face extinction. In a warmer world, that would leave supplies of food at risk.

LONDON, 17 December, 2019 – Botanists have made a new census of terrestrial plants – only to find that with nearly 40% of them rare, or extremely rare, this may put food at risk.

And a second team of researchers, in a separate study, has established that some of these rare or vanishing species could include the wild relatives of some of the planet’s most popular vegetables.

The two studies matter. The first underlines yet another reason for new and determined conservation strategies to preserve the extraordinary natural variety and richness of life – the shorthand word that scientists use is biodiversity – already under pressure from the explosion in human numbers, the destruction of natural habitats and the looming catastrophe of climate change driven by rapidly rising global temperatures.

And the second study is simply a matter of the next lunch or dinner: many rare plants are survivors with the resources to adapt to change. In a fast-changing world, crop breeders may need to go back to the wild relatives to look for the genes that will keep the commercial carrots, courgettes, pumpkins and chilli peppers on the grocery shelves.

US scientists and international colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they worked for 10 years and compiled 20 million observational records to establish a simple plant census: the forests, grasslands, scrublands, tundra and swamps of the wild world are home to about 435,000 unique plant species.

“The wild relatives of crops are one of the key tools used to breed crops adapted to difficult conditions. Some of them are sure to disappear from their natural habitats without urgent action”

And of this huge number, a surprising 36.5% are “exceedingly rare.” By this, researchers mean that these species have been observed and recorded no more than five times in the last 300 years of systematic botanical research.

“According to ecological and evolutionary theory, we’d expect many species to be rare, but the actual observed number we found was pretty startling,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona, who led the consortium. “There are many more rare species than we expected.”

The rare species were most likely to be clustered in what ecologists call hotspots: the northern Andes in South America, Costa Rica, South Africa, Madagascar and south-east Asia.

What these places have in common is that, over millions of years, they have maintained stable climates, and as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, these tropical mountains and valleys provided refuge for life’s variety.

But these survivors may not enjoy a stable future, as ever higher levels of greenhouse gases are spilled into the atmosphere from human use of fossil fuels, and global temperatures continue to rise, and as human communities expand into what was once wilderness.

Significant loss ahead

“In many of these regions, there’s increasing human activity such as agriculture, cities and towns, land use and clearing,” said Professor Enquist.

“So that’s not exactly the best of news. If nothing is done, this all indicates that there will be a significant reduction in biodiversity – mainly in rare species – because their low numbers makes them more prone to extinction.”

Humans depend on the natural world for survival: biodiversity – plants, fungi, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and so on – provides all human nourishment, most of the medicines, fuels, fabrics and textiles that warm and shelter 7.7bn people, and at the same time maintains supplies of water, air, crop pollinators and so on.

But new research in the journal Plants, People, Planet confirms once again that many of the wild ancestors and cousins of the crops that nourish billions could be at risk.

And these wild relatives – which have survived climate shifts over millions of years – represent a vital resource for plant breeders anxious to cope with rapid global heating.

Unpreserved

The latest study confirms that 65% of wild pumpkins and more than 95% of wild chilli peppers are not formally preserved in any gene banks protected by conservation scientists.

“The wild relatives of crops are one of the key tools used to breed crops adapted to hotter, colder, drier, wetter, saltier and other difficult conditions,” said Colin Khoury of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

“But they are impacted by habitat destruction, over-harvesting, climate change, pollution, invasive species and more. Some of them are sure to disappear from their natural habitats without urgent action.”

Dr Khoury and his colleagues have prepared a series of detailed maps of the range and distribution of the wild relatives of a range of important food species: the aim is to focus on the most effective kinds of protection for what, literally, could become tomorrow’s lunch in a world of rapid change.

“If they disappear, they are gone,” said Dr Khoury. “Extinction is forever, which is a loss not only in terms of their evolution and persistence on the planet, but also a loss to the future of our food.” – Climate News Network

More than a third of the world’s plants are so rare they face extinction. In a warmer world, that would leave supplies of food at risk.

LONDON, 17 December, 2019 – Botanists have made a new census of terrestrial plants – only to find that with nearly 40% of them rare, or extremely rare, this may put food at risk.

And a second team of researchers, in a separate study, has established that some of these rare or vanishing species could include the wild relatives of some of the planet’s most popular vegetables.

The two studies matter. The first underlines yet another reason for new and determined conservation strategies to preserve the extraordinary natural variety and richness of life – the shorthand word that scientists use is biodiversity – already under pressure from the explosion in human numbers, the destruction of natural habitats and the looming catastrophe of climate change driven by rapidly rising global temperatures.

And the second study is simply a matter of the next lunch or dinner: many rare plants are survivors with the resources to adapt to change. In a fast-changing world, crop breeders may need to go back to the wild relatives to look for the genes that will keep the commercial carrots, courgettes, pumpkins and chilli peppers on the grocery shelves.

US scientists and international colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they worked for 10 years and compiled 20 million observational records to establish a simple plant census: the forests, grasslands, scrublands, tundra and swamps of the wild world are home to about 435,000 unique plant species.

“The wild relatives of crops are one of the key tools used to breed crops adapted to difficult conditions. Some of them are sure to disappear from their natural habitats without urgent action”

And of this huge number, a surprising 36.5% are “exceedingly rare.” By this, researchers mean that these species have been observed and recorded no more than five times in the last 300 years of systematic botanical research.

“According to ecological and evolutionary theory, we’d expect many species to be rare, but the actual observed number we found was pretty startling,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona, who led the consortium. “There are many more rare species than we expected.”

The rare species were most likely to be clustered in what ecologists call hotspots: the northern Andes in South America, Costa Rica, South Africa, Madagascar and south-east Asia.

What these places have in common is that, over millions of years, they have maintained stable climates, and as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, these tropical mountains and valleys provided refuge for life’s variety.

But these survivors may not enjoy a stable future, as ever higher levels of greenhouse gases are spilled into the atmosphere from human use of fossil fuels, and global temperatures continue to rise, and as human communities expand into what was once wilderness.

Significant loss ahead

“In many of these regions, there’s increasing human activity such as agriculture, cities and towns, land use and clearing,” said Professor Enquist.

“So that’s not exactly the best of news. If nothing is done, this all indicates that there will be a significant reduction in biodiversity – mainly in rare species – because their low numbers makes them more prone to extinction.”

Humans depend on the natural world for survival: biodiversity – plants, fungi, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and so on – provides all human nourishment, most of the medicines, fuels, fabrics and textiles that warm and shelter 7.7bn people, and at the same time maintains supplies of water, air, crop pollinators and so on.

But new research in the journal Plants, People, Planet confirms once again that many of the wild ancestors and cousins of the crops that nourish billions could be at risk.

And these wild relatives – which have survived climate shifts over millions of years – represent a vital resource for plant breeders anxious to cope with rapid global heating.

Unpreserved

The latest study confirms that 65% of wild pumpkins and more than 95% of wild chilli peppers are not formally preserved in any gene banks protected by conservation scientists.

“The wild relatives of crops are one of the key tools used to breed crops adapted to hotter, colder, drier, wetter, saltier and other difficult conditions,” said Colin Khoury of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

“But they are impacted by habitat destruction, over-harvesting, climate change, pollution, invasive species and more. Some of them are sure to disappear from their natural habitats without urgent action.”

Dr Khoury and his colleagues have prepared a series of detailed maps of the range and distribution of the wild relatives of a range of important food species: the aim is to focus on the most effective kinds of protection for what, literally, could become tomorrow’s lunch in a world of rapid change.

“If they disappear, they are gone,” said Dr Khoury. “Extinction is forever, which is a loss not only in terms of their evolution and persistence on the planet, but also a loss to the future of our food.” – Climate News Network

Jet stream changes may hit global breadbaskets

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

Conservation pays its way handsomely

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Forest damage costs far more than thought

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Greenhouse gases drive Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

World’s species numbers stay much the same

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network