Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Specialist #3: My White Blood Cell Count is a Bit Low (Biodiversity Loss)

Bluey here,

I'd completely forgotten that over 99.9% of my white-blood-cell species have already gone extinct. Specialist Dr Barnosky et al referenced my records, citing five periods of low white-blood-cell-counts (or 'mass-extinctions') on my surface. That's when over 75% of my estimated species were lost forever. My:
  1. Ordovician: ~443 Mya
  2. Late Devonian: ~359 Mya
  3. Permian: ~251 Mya (when my white blood cell count was lowest)
  4. Triassic: ~200 Mya
  5. Cretaceous: ~65 Mya (when my Tyrannosaurus and Diplodocus white blood cells disappeared).
I vaguely remembered the ‘Cretaceous golf ball incident' as I couldn’t believe something so small had managed to have such wide-ranging consequences, but the other four were hazy.

Whilst Dr Barnosky processed my results, I struck up a conversation with his assistant Nurse Hooper et al regarding the effects of plant species loss on 'ecosystem services'. Despite coming from a distinctly human perspective, he brought the relevance of species loss on other vital processes like primary production to the fore.

I also learnt from Nurse Hooper that species loss would have to be in excess of 75% before rivalling other environmental changes like nutrient pollution and drought. I was optimistic. But not for long.

My Results:

Medical Report Card 3 - Biodiversity Loss
For your information:
  • E/MSY: Extinctions per million species-years
  • BII: Biodiversity Intactness Index (more details with Dr Scholes)

Looks like I'll be relying on humans again... Protecting those species—not just my  'charismatic invertebrates'—currently threatened (see below) is of the utmost priority, otherwise I may see my SIXTH great extinction event in my equivalent of just a few days!

IUCN RedList (Source: IUCN)

Dr Barnosky and his assistant's meta-analyses were unequivocal, but I couldn't help but notice all the 'limitations' on the medical report. Consequently, I thought it prudent to collate a selection of 'second' opinions. I organised a conference call with Dr Thomas, Dr Vellend, Dr Brook and Dr Seddon.

Light on data, heavy on opinion, Dr Thomas explained how humans could be boosting my biodiversity by encouraging the hybridisation of species and 'indirectly' increasing temperatures, stressing that 'new'—as opposed to traditional—species shouldn't be stigmatised. In my humble opinion, Dr Thomas raised important points, especially that empirical data must lead the way, not irrationality, however I believe he failed his own test here.

On the other hand, Dr Vellend came equipped with a data-rich rebuttal of Nurse Hooper—around the importance of biodiversity as an 'ecosystem service'. From Dr Vellend's perspective, previous studies had rested on "untested assumptions". There was in fact, no significant empirical change in net local-scale plant biodiversity over time. But because of his local focus, I chose to ignore him. That was until I heard Dr Brook's opinion.

Dr Brook presented me with the best news of the day. Despite the potential loss of global species biodiversity, my functioning and resilience would likely remain strong. He described the functioning of my biosphere 'health' as the "aggregate contribution of the many component ecosystems operating on local and regional scales". So local does matter! I even learnt at a regional scale, there's sometimes a net increase in species diversity, such as on oceanic islands, in spite of species richness becoming more "globally homogenised" generally. Promising.

Dr Seddon offered neutral but informative thoughts around human conservation efforts. The translocation of species, assisted colonisation, ecological replacements and 'rewilding' all come with the best of human intentions, but with mixed results in practice. I think insisting that restoring species in a changing world requires "resetting public aspirations of biodiversity" was on point but should certainly not be used as another convenient excuse by humans.

Big Killers (Source: Nature)

There's cause for worry and cause for hope. Humans must recognise the importance of biodiversity for their own sake. From where I'm standing, my white-blood-cell-count may be decreasing but I'm likely going to be just fine. 

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