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.

www.nytimes.com

Biden announces $2 trillion climate plan

Joe Biden’s plan connects tackling climate change with the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, while also addressing racism. The proposal drew praise from his onetime critics.

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.

www.nytimes.com

New data shows an 'extraordinary' rise in U.S. coastal flooding

Rising seas are bringing water into communities at record rates, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.
www.nytimes.com

How Facebook handles climate disinformation

Critics say a company policy that exempts opinion articles from fact-checking amounts to a huge loophole for climate change deniers.
www.nytimes.com

Global methane emissions reach a record high

Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
abcnews.go.com

As seaweed becomes a top crop in East Africa, a new program will help farmers grow it sustainably

The Nature Conservancy is launching a new program in Zanzibar to help seaweed farmers develop sustainable practices and improve the resiliency of the important crop.
www.dw.com

Biodiversity blooms in cities when green spaces go wild

Cities are leaving once manicured green spaces to rewild with native flowers and grasses that attract more diverse insects, birds and wildlife.

news.mongabay.com

'In the plantations there is hunger and loneliness': The cultural dimensions of food insecurity in Papua

As palm oil companies take over their land, the Marind people of southern Papua, are struggling to feed themselves.

From our Newsroom

Big Oil flows a little bit backward

Pipelines have had a very bad July (so far).

Beyond the “silver lining” of emissions reductions: Clean energy takes a COVID-19 hit

With job loss and stifled development in the renewable energy sector, economists, politicians, and advocates say policy action is necessary to stay on track.

A fracking giant's fall

Chesapeake Energy was a fracking pioneer on a meteoric rise. Last week, it fell to Earth.

Our annual summer reading list, 2020 edition

EHN staff shares their top book recommendations for the summer.

Coronavirus is creating a crisis of energy insecurity

Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unpaid bills and energy shutoffs in many vulnerable US households. Indiana University researchers warn we need to act now to avoid yet another health emergency.

Ode to Jersey

From shark attacks to the "syringe tide"—a brief look at the highs and lows of New Jersey's environmental past.

The Daily Climate

Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers.

Don't get left in the rain! Join our Daily Climate newsletter!