Small wonders | Daily News

Small wonders

In the future, small, fast-lived, highly-fertile, insect-eating animals which can thrive in a wide variety of habitats will predominate, a recent study suggests.

These ‘winners’ include rodents, such as dwarf gerbil - and songbirds, such as the white-browed sparrow-weaver. Less adaptable, slow-lived species, requiring specialist environmental conditions, will likely fall victim of extinction. These ‘losers’ include the tawny eagle and black rhinoceros.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have forecast a worldwide move towards smaller birds and mammals over the next 100 years.

The researchers predict the average (median) body mass of mammals specifically will collectively reduce by 25 per cent over the next century. This decline represents a large, accelerated change when compared with the 14 per cent body size reduction observed in species from 130,000 years ago (the last interglacial period) until today.

Findings are published in detail in the journal Nature Communications. According to the team of researchers, by far the biggest threat to birds and mammals is humankind - with habitats being destroyed due to our impact on the planet, such as deforestation, hunting, intensive farming, urbanisation and the effects of global warming.

“The substantial ‘downsising’ of species which we forecast could incur further negative impacts for the long-term sustainability of ecology and evolution. This downsising may be happening due to the effects of ecological change but, ironically, with the loss of species which perform unique functions within our global ecosystem, it could also end up as a driver of change too,” said Rob Cooke, lead author of the study.

The research team focused on 15,484 living land mammals and birds and considered five characteristics that relate to the role of each species in nature: body mass, litter/clutch size, breadth of habitat, diet and length of time between generations.

The research team hopes further studies can be carried out to look in more detail at the longer-term effect of species becoming extinct on habitats and ecosystems. ANI


 

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