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The rise of the rat – study shows human land-use favours common species

05 December 2018
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Human habitat modification is favouring the same species everywhere while unique species are disappearing, finds a study co-authored by Samantha Hill, Senior Biodiversity Modelling Scientist at UNEP-WCMC.

Published on 4 December in PLoS Biology, the study found that human developments such as farms, towns, and cities often lead to a decline in narrow-ranged species while species common all over the world, such as pigeons and rats, thrive. This can have critical knock-on effects for food production and a whole other range of natural services that humans rely upon, since animals and plants that occupy small areas may play distinct and important roles within their local ecosystems.

The authors of the study, led by Tim Newbold at University College London and Andy Purvis at the Natural History Museum in London, drew on data from 81 countries to analyse the impacts of land conversion on nearly 20,000 different species of animals and plants across the world.

Their analysis showed that species already occupying a large area see a population boost where humans use the land, while many species that are unique to specific places are disappearing. This means that a tourist travelling from one capital city to another on the opposite side of the world may well be welcomed by the same species, a process known as ‘homogenisation’.

Samantha said: “These findings, by showing how biodiversity typically responds to human developments, have real relevance for global conservation efforts as well as sustainable development strategies. Diversity of life provides resilience to change, and so it is very much in our own best interests to conserve a wide range of species.”

Tim added: “As humans, we place great value on animals and plants that are confined to particular locations – we travel around the world to see animals like tigers in Asia or rhinoceroses in Africa, and animals and plants are often our national emblems. We show around the world that when humans modify habitats, these unique species are consistently lost and are replaced by species that are found everywhere, such as pigeons in cities and rats in farmland.”

The full article can be read on the PloS Biology website.


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