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Diverse worlds of animals and plants disappearing

By Dave Armstrong - 18 Jul 2014 10:45:0 GMT
Diverse worlds of animals and plants disappearing

The short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, is found throughout Australia, but relatives such as the long beaked species were lost as recently as 10,000 years ago. They still survive in Papua New Guinea; Echidna image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Diversity is not a simple question of numbers. Brett Mishler of the University of California, Berkeley, makes that obvious in the current issue of - Nature Communications. He and his Australian co-workers call their extensive big data computer compilation, “CANAPE.” This new paper has lots of Australian maps and the work has now moved on to survey Californian hotspots of diversity. However, the databases of the world’s museums now need to update to that of the Australians and add to this project

We have a small planet full of species that comprise animal, plant, fungal and other types. Having disposed of many of the edible ones that we can easily find, the human species is dedicated to more destruction, largely from greed. That we want resources such as minerals and lots of land area is obvious. The long-term solution would be to adopt farming techniques that ensure sustainability, but that particular word is not in the vocabulary of energy industries outside renewables.

The Australian plant databases (especially of rare acacias) inspired this crew of biologists to create their model. Endemism such as that in many islands is weighted alongside diversity to create maps that distinguish special areas for conservation. Examples include California’s coastal redwood forests, or what’s left of them, and rainforests in SW Australia. They are encouraging the addition of many more databases which are geo-referenced.

Pinpointing new emerging species and disappearing species living in refuges is made simpler with computer help, but you can count the species in any area and the phylogenetic distance between them using this tool. New species are being discovered on the verge of extinction just now, so it’s time to spot the areas containing endemics and get out there to find them before, as has often happened, a dead organism or a useless (for breeding) single creature is located. Science progresses with techniques like these, but the animal or plant on the ground receives no benefit. It’s simply trodden down as industry and agriculture take the short-term view. Action for conservation needs generosity, understanding and worldwide cooperation, instead of the declining situation we have at present.