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Scientists find only 3% of land areas unblemished by humans

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Scientists find only 3% of land areas unblemished by humans

Very little of today’s world resembles Planet Earth from 500 years ago. In fact, only about 3 percent of land surfaces might be ecologically intact — still home to their full range of native species and unblemished by human activity, according to new research.

The finding — published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change — is far lower than previous estimates based on satellite images, which suggested around 20 percent to 40 percent of land ecosystems were undamaged.

For the new study, however, scientists conducted an extensive survey of forest cover and species losses to understand better what was happening beneath the world’s tree canopies.

“I was particularly surprised to see how low it really is,” said Andrew Plumptre, a conservation biologist at the University of Cambridge. “It shows how rare such intact places are. It’s scary just how little the world looks like what it was just 500 years ago.”

The term ecosystem describes the complex relationships within a natural area that, altogether, help to sustain a healthy and balanced diversity of life. Lose just one or two key species and the whole system could fall apart.

Today’s still-pristine habitats, containing the same species abundance as in the year 1500 A.D., were mostly found in regions considered less hospitable for humans, including the Sahara Desert and chilly regions of Greenland and northern Canada.

Other intact habitats were in areas under extreme pressure from deforestation and development, including parts of the Amazon in Latin America.

The authors argue that these areas should be a priority for future conservation. Though currently, only 11 percent of these areas are under protection, the study found.

“The idea of focusing on intact areas is so that you don’t have to work to remove the human footprint,” Plumptre said.

Some scientists, however, questioned the extremely low figure, saying it could be attributed to the study using a particularly narrow definition of “intact habitats” — those with their full, historical collection of animals and plants.

“We need practical actions to ensure species and ecosystems survive,” said Stuart Pimm, a conservation scientist at Duke University.

He also questioned the study authors’ call for protecting still-intact areas, noting frozen or desert patches are not the most abundant with species. “Encouraging nations to protect remote, sparsely populated areas won’t do biodiversity a lot of good,” Pimm said.

An effort led by the United Nations to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and waters by 2030 – up from about 17 percent currently under some form of protection – has gained momentum over the last year, as governments including the United States have pledged to commit more land to conservation.

Some conservationists argue, however, that the world’s conservation goal should be much higher than 30 percent in order to prevent mass die-offs of species. A 2019 UN report estimated as many as 1 million species are under threat of extinction due to human activity.

“30 by 30 is a nice catchphrase, but it won’t do much good if the areas to be protected are not selected carefully,” Pimm said.

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Here’s which animals Americans think they can beat in a fight

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Here's which animals Americans think they can beat in a fight

They say you should never poke a bear, but an overly confident 6% of Americans would.

A new online survey by YouGov — which appears to serve no higher purpose than to entertain — has revealed that, despite our reputation for arrogance, Americans are surprisingly realistic when it comes to fantasy match-ups pitting humans against beasts.

The ridiculous statistic, taken from a poll of 1,224 US adults aged 18 and over, asked participants to answer the query “Which animal do you think would win in a fight?” — humans included. The survey asked each volunteer to select one of two animals in a hypothetical head-to-head and answer seven rounds of pairings.

It should come as no surprise that the mighty elephant and fierce rhinoceros won out against more than 30 other predators and prey 74% of the time, securing their title as true rulers of the wild — at least, from humans’ perspective.

Grizzly bears got third billing (73%), then tigers (70%) and, in fifth place, the hippopotamus (69%) — who beat out some of the most agile hunters in all the animal kingdom, including the lion (68%) and a number of other big cats. It’s an astute assessment as the hippo, clocking in at about three tons, is widely considered to be one of the world’s deadliest animals, and kills some 500 people each year in Africa alone.

What followed is a pretty typical cast of ferocious characters, like the crocodile (67%) or the alligator (65%); the gorilla and the polar bear (each 64%). Notably raging reptiles — the anaconda, King Cobra and the Komodo dragon — all had strong showings. Even a few ruminants — the buffalo, bull and moose — were highly regarded.

Geese were considered the least of all formidable animals, winning just 14% of the time. Humans came next with 17%. Even a honey badger (37%) got more backing than us.

Survey data was also reorganized to reflect how humans ranked themselves against all other animals. Turns out we showed a healthy fear for some of the most savage beasts in more than 90% of match-ups, including against crocs, gorillas, elephants and lions.

Nearly half of us think we could take down a mid-sized dog, while just 23% would clash with a large canine. (In reality, dogs are more blight than bite: Rabies caused by feral dog bites kill tens of thousands globally per year, according to the World Health Organization, whereas, last year in the US, just 36 people died from injuries caused by dogs.) And put us in front of a rat, house cat or common landfowl and folks will put their money on our species about two-thirds of the time.

However, there’s one animal the survey didn’t name that deserves a nod: the mosquito. They may seem easy to squash, but the humble insect is responsible for more human deaths — hundreds of thousands — than any other animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Probably because, well, who could see them coming?

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Dad throws baby fit at pink gender reveal party

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Dad throws baby fit at pink gender reveal party

A father-to-be proved himself the biggest baby at his future child’s gender reveal. 

A viral TikTok video from this spring has captured the moment a dad learned that his unborn kid will be a girl — a fact he seems not very happy about.

While the rest of the crowd present erupts in cheers as a pregnant woman pops a balloon covered in question marks — that proves to be filled with smaller pink balloons, revealing that the woman will be having a daughter — the father has quite a different reaction. “Son of a bitch,” he appears to scream, throwing down the balloon’s strings in frustration and turning away from the party guests, all smiling but him.

The video, which was posted on April 25, has racked up over 566,000 views on the platform. 

The reaction is certainly not the best, but other recent gender reveals have gone up in far bigger flames.

Earlier in April, a particularly rambunctious gender reveal in New Hampshire shook homes in neighboring towns, was felt across state lines and prompted earthquake concerns, because it caused such a huge blast. It turns out, revelers had detonated 80 pounds of Tannerite to celebrate the fact that the baby was a boy. 

“We heard this God-awful blast,” neighbor Sara Taglieri told NBC 10 Boston. “It knocked pictures off our walls . . . I’m all up for silliness and whatnot, but that was extreme.”

Other notably intense gender reveal incidents have involved an Australian driver using color-infused rubber tires for (explosive) burnouts, a Tennessee couple using handheld colored smoke cannons and a gender reveal in Iowa that launched lethal shrapnel.

The woman behind the fad has begged people to be safer.

“For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” the parenting blogger credited with inventing the baby-reveal trend wrote last year. “

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Diver spots fish wearing a gold wedding ring in Australia

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Diver spots fish wearing a gold wedding ring in Australia

One man’s treasure is a fish’s trash.

A common mullet fish was spotted in the southern Pacific Ocean looking like a thousand bucks — by reasonable estimates.

Earlier this week, travel writer and avid snorkeler Susan Prior, who lives on Australia’s Norfolk Island, shared images of a silvery mullet fish, no more than a few inches long, with a gold wedding band wrapped around its head.

Prior is used to seeing these tiny fish sporting similar collars, usually made of plastic, which likely come from discarded “plastic juice and milk bottles,” she said, which so often end up in the ocean.

“Sometimes these rings escape into the wild, and this is the sad consequence,” Prior said in a May 11 blog post on her website.

But one mullet recently caught her eye for its particularly flashy new accessory.

“This one looked a shiny metallic gold, with a lot less algal growth compared to the plastic ones,” she wrote, referring to past mullets she’s seen with a similar look.

Although it’s certainly not uncommon for swimmers to lose their rings in the water, Prior also remembered that someone from Norfolk Island had in fact lost their gold band recently.

“I recalled that someone had posted on our local community social media pages about a large man’s wedding ring that had gone missing in the bay earlier this year, so I decided to see if I could find the possible owner,” she explained. “It didn’t take long for my suspicion to be confirmed; we now have a poor mullet weighed down with someone’s (expensive) gold wedding ring.”

However, she was unable to return the ring since she couldn’t catch up to the fish. According to Prior, who takes daily swims in the ocean, mullets are uniquely susceptible to picking up rings.

“Mullet snuffle through the sand looking for food, making it so easy for a ring or hair tie to flip over their noses and get stuck,” she wrote.

The amateur underwater photographer also pointed out that, valuable or not, these fish are being hampered by the added weight and algal growth, and at risk of being “slowly strangled,” she wrote. “The mullet has a life to live and it’s only fair he gets to live it.”

She also reminded her readers that, if we can’t keep trash from settling on the seabed, we can at the very least take steps to prevent harm to marine life.

“It is such a quick job to [pry] the collar off the bottle and snip it before putting it in your waste,” she wrote.

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