Indigenous children in Caquetá, Colombia. (Credit: Stiven Gaviria/Unsplash)

The planet’s largest ecosystems could collapse faster than we thought

Massive, vital ecosystems that have existed for thousands of years could breakdown in just a few decades, according to a new study

If put under the kind of environmental stress increasingly seen on our planet, large ecosystems —such as the Amazon rainforest or the Caribbean coral reefs—could collapse in just a few decades, according to a study released today in Nature Communications.


In the case of Amazon forests, stressors could cause collapse in just 49 years. In Caribbean coral reefs, it could take as little as 15 years.

"The messages here are stark," said lead researcher John Dearing, a professor in physical geography at the University of Southampton, in a statement.

Those estimates come from Dearing and colleagues who examined data on how 42 natural environments—small and large, and on both land and water—have transformed. They found that larger ecosystems may take longer than small ones to collapse, but the rate of their decline is much more rapid.

Ecosystem stress can come in many forms such as climate change, deforestation, overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification.

(Credit: Francesco Ungaro/Unsplash)

"Humanity now needs to prepare for changes in ecosystems that are faster than we previously envisaged through our traditional linear view of the world, including across Earth 's largest and most iconic ecosystems, and the social–ecological systems that they support," the authors wrote.

Larger ecosystems are made up of smaller "sub-systems" of species and habitats, which provide some resilience against rapid change. However, once these smaller systems start to collapse, the new study finds the large ecosystems as a whole fall apart much faster than previously expected.

Researchers pointed to the destructive Australian and Amazon rainforest wildfires as recent examples of this dangerous fast rate of collapse.

"These findings are yet another call for halting the current damage being imposed on our natural environments that pushes ecosystems to their limits," Dearing added.

See the full study in Nature Communications.

Facing floods and fires, undocumented immigrants have nowhere to turn for help

Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for aid after disasters like Hurricane Ida and wildfires. Some people are trying to change that.

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Global south suffering gap in climate change research as rich countries drive agenda, studies suggest

Developing countries suffer from a significant gap in terms of scientific research related to climate change, a new study shows, even though they contain the communities and people most vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other serious impacts of climate change. 

Drought in northern Kenya pushes millions towards hunger

In northern Kenya, the ribs of dead sheep stretch towards the blazing sun as parched herders trudge past, a day's march from water. The value of their skinny goats is falling as fast as the prices scrawled on the sacks in the market are shooting up.

'Community ownership' might be the best way to fight deforestation

Forests owned, managed and governed by their communities naturally preserve biodiversity and have very low levels of deforestation.

Manchin fires back after Sanders pens op-ed in West Virginia paper

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ move to land an op-ed in Manchin’s backyard seems to have crossed the line for the West Virginia senator.

In elk, a Kentucky professor sees an opportunity to help revitalize Appalachia

One professor is advocating for further expansion of the elk population through a conservation corridor across Appalachia. But, it could be a heavy lift.

How the climate crisis is transforming the meaning of ‘sustainability’

Companies have been taking a ‘sustainability-as-usual’ approach to the climate crisis—a slow and voluntary adoption of commitments—but that may soon come to an end.