March 20, 2023
Europe's mammal biodiversity as rich as 8,000 years ago, new research finds

Europe’s mammal biodiversity as rich as 8,000 years ago, new research finds

Global Change Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16316″ width=”800″ height=”530″/>

Map of species richness, phylogenetic diversity and functional diversity for each region. Panels show estimated values ​​8000 years ago, changes associated with extirpation (losses), changes associated with introductions, reintroductions and other range expansions (gains), and total change (net change). Map lines delineate study areas and do not necessarily depict accepted national boundaries. Credit: Global Change Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16316

A new study comparing the biodiversity of wild mammals in Europe 8,000 years ago with today has found that more species have been gained than lost on the continent.

The study, published in Global Change Biology and led by the University of York, found that recent species recovery and the introduction of non-native species increased diversity by equivalent or greater amounts in many European regions, despite habitat loss and local extinctions in many areas.

If the current momentum for conservation and reintroduction projects continues, alongside projects to reintroduce mammals once driven from Europe’s rivers, forests and mountains—such as wolves, beavers and lynxes—there is the potential to increase diversity beyond from levels seen 8,000 years ago in most areas, the researchers say.

While some island mammals are now extinct, only two species that roamed the mainland 8,000 years ago have been permanently lost worldwide—the Aurochs (a wild ancestor of the cow) and the European Wild Ass.

Dr. Jack Hatfield from the Leverhulme Center for Anthropocene Biodiversity at the University of York, said: “Although our study does not examine gains and losses in animal numbers within species, it offers a hopeful vision for the future. The vast majority of Europe’s mammals it’s still here and if promises to give more land back to nature are kept, biodiversity levels could rise beyond the levels seen by our ancestors.|

“Many studies have shown large declines in some populations, so it is surprising how well nature can adapt to anthropogenic changes on a regional scale. The success of conservation actions such as reintroduction programs such as beaver and bison are back in many European countries, along with the movement of non-native species across Europe also contributed to the maintenance of biodiversity levels.’

Study co-author Professor Chris Thomas, Director of the Leverhulme Center for Anthropocene Biodiversity, added, “while it is not possible to restore the natural environment to what it was 8,000 years ago, not all changes are bad and our study highlights the possibility of a positive future for our relationship with Europe’s mammals.”

The study compared today’s data with data from archaeological records that traced the presence of mammals 8,000 years ago, when there were only an estimated five million people on the planet and early agriculture spread across Europe.

The researchers chose this time period as a point of comparison because the climate had recently become more stable, making it easier to distinguish between anthropogenic impacts on species and natural changes. Species such as the Woolly Rhinoceros and the Mammoth were already extinct at the end of the last ice age.

The researchers caution that while their study gives a hopeful picture of Europe’s mammals, the same may not be true in other parts of the world where rapid habitat destruction is taking place.

More information:
Jack H. Hatfield et al, Lost, gained and recovered functional and phylogenetic diversity of European mammals 8000 years ago, Global Change Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16316

Provided by the University of York

Reference: Europe’s mammal biodiversity as rich as it was 8,000 years ago, new research finds (2022, 4 November) Retrieved 4 November 2022 from europe-mammals-rich-years.html

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