Research has found that human activities pose more threat to local species than climate change.
For many years, scientists were unable to find what caused many species of reptiles, birds and mammals to disappear from all over the world at the end of the ice-age. They have argued whether it was climate change or human activities that pushed them into extinction.
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A recent discovery has shed a new light on this classical topic. Researchers from the University of Florida recovered nearly 100 fossils of many extinct species in an underwater cave in Bahamas which dates back to last ice age around 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.
After having a close look at the fossil remains, they have found that humans appear to have been more devastating than even severe climate change. A total of 32 extinct species used to live Great Abaco Island. Around 17 bird species died from expanding sea levels and climate change and 22 species survived the climate change 10,000 years ago until humans stepped foot on the island (around 1,000 years ago).
“What we see today is just a small snapshot of how species have existed for millions of years,” said lead author Dave Steadman, an ornithology curator at Florida Museum on Natural History on UF campus. “The species that existed on Abaco up until people arrived were survivors. They withstood a variety of environmental changes, but some could not adapt quickly or drastically enough to what happened when people showed up.”
Researchers returned to the Bahamas to explore further caves on the Caribbean Island and painted a rather grim picture. Climate change, habitat change and rising seas all caused the native species populations to become too small to remain genetically viable. But the arrival of humans drastically changed the scenario and quick altering of habitats drove them to demise.
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“When humans change habitats at a rate that local species cannot keep up with, that can very quickly result in the losses,” said Hayley Singleton, UF master’s student and co-author of the study. “Likewise, even small climate changes can affect migration and significantly impact habitats. So, you can have the perfect storm where climate and human-driven changes are occurring at the same time, like we’re seeing in places around the world today.”