A team of scientists – including T. Jonathan Davies of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis – has released a study indicating the evolutionary future of terrestrial mammal species and how the impacts of human behavior might influence global animal diversity. The study, which also featured contributions from scientists at the Imperial College London, the London Institute of Zoology, the Technical University of Munich and the University of Georgia at Athens, was published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study could influence future conservation efforts, namely by trying to protect animals that are not endangered at the moment but are likely to become this way in the future. “Think of it as a healthcare system with some species on life support and other, healthier species needing a vaccination to keep them thriving,” Davies was quoted as saying in an August 20 press release from UCSB.
Scientists participating in the study looked at both external factors – how species’ habitats have changed, how much of them have been lost, where the species lives, and whether it lives in a place where other species are endangered – as well as biological factors – including the animal’s size, at what age it reaches sexual maturity, and the size of its litters. Davies noted that the most threatened species is primates, who are slow reproducers living in specific areas. Species like rats, rabbits and foxes, Davies said, are hardier and less likely to become extinct.
An unknown, however, is how climate change could factor into these species’ futures. “It’s very difficult to predict which species will survive when we don’t know what the future climates will be,” Davies said.