Human impact on conservation discussions

Need for improved conservation models including human impact.

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Humans play a significant role in global conservation efforts to protect natural resources and wildlife. However, existing models often need to pay more attention to human impacts when predicting the future of endangered species.

Researchers from Michigan State University highlighted these gaps in Nature Ecology and Evolution. They proposed new methods to better anticipate and plan for the conservation of endangered species.

Ecologists, conservation biologists, and others rely on species distribution models (SDMs) to map and forecast where and why species live. These computational tools are crucial for conservation, disease control, food security, and policymaking. Typically, scientists use environmental factors like climate and habitat in these models. However, PhD candidate Veronica Frans suggests that today’s SDMs must acknowledge our human-dominated world for accurate and practical predictions.

Frans and her advisor Jianguo “Jack” Liu, who leads MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, reviewed 12,854 studies on over 58,000 species worldwide. They found that only 11% of these studies considered human activities, which Frans believes doesn’t accurately represent reality.

She noted that nearly half of the studies forecasting future climates assumed human influences remained constant. According to Frans, this approach may lead to unwarranted optimism about the impacts of human activities compared to climate change.

In nearly half of the studies predicting species distributions using species distribution models (SDMs), scientists assumed different future climate scenarios while keeping human activities constant. This suggests that models predicting where species will live in the next 50 to 100 years may need to adequately reflect changes in human development, infrastructure, and other pressures.

Frans emphasized that human influence is widespread today, and interactions between humans and species are increasing. Yet, these factors are often overlooked in ecological modeling. They noted that limited geographic data on future human development has constrained modelers’ ability to account for these changes.

Jianguo “Jack” Liu,” said, “This is an important aspect we must improve since nature and humans are tightly linked, both locally and across long distances. “T” ey form metacoupled human and natural systems. We can only make significant and swift progress toward global sustainability when considering all aspects of our natural world.”

Journal reference:

  1. Frans, V.F., Liu, J. Gaps and opportunities in modeling human influence on species distributions in the Anthropocene. Nature Ecology Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-024-02435-3.

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