Biodiversity and Climate Change: What are the Academics saying?

In the previous blog post, ‘Climate Change: A Look Into What The Media Says‘, I found that I was particularly drawn to the articles concerned with the effects of human activity on the earth’s wildlife. I decided that I wanted to explore this issue further, and gain a more academic understanding of some of the known impacts. Chunco’s ‘Hybridisation in a warmer world’ (2014) and Wallace’s ‘Insecticides and Birds’ (1958) are two articles that I found particulalry interesting and that demonstrate the length that humans have been interrupting the natural state of things.

 

Hybridisation in a warmer world

Amanda J. Chunco

Published in Ecology and Evolution, a journal that strives to develop understanding of organisms, their interactions and the environment, Amanda Chunco’s research article focuses on hybridisation as a result of climate change, detailing thoroughly the many environmental situations that might cause within–species hybridisation. Still a relatively new topic of research, Chunco feels that the avenue of hybridisation needs to gain more awareness as it’s occurring more commonly as the earth’s climate changes.

Having conducted research for past publications on hybridisation and environmental suitability, Chunco argues that hybridisation is an inevitable future as species disperse and converge to more comfortable environments. However, Chunco sees this as both a positive and negative outcome. With her ecologist knowledge of sexual selection, she presents the idea that the hybridisation of species could accelerate the rate of evolution, allowing them to adapt quicker to the changing environment. This view has been focused on by other scientists and ecologists as the likeliest outcome of within-species reproduction, although it’s been noted that this rate of evolution may still be too gradual to match the rapidly-warming environments. Chunco’s specialisation in the conservation of rare and endangered species, though, provides an alternative viewpoint; that unique and rare species are more susceptible to extinction as they hybridise with more common taxonomies. Because of this, Chunco does not necessarily view hybridisation as a favourable response to climate change and feels that this is an issue that can’t go “unobserved and unchecked in the wild” (Chunco 2014).

 

Insecticides and Birds

George J. Wallace

George J. Wallace worked in wildlife conservation, with a particular interest in birds, before becoming the Professor of Zoology at Michigan State University in the 1950’s. It is perhaps due to his avid interest in birds that he noticed the number of dead and dying robins on campus, which prompted him to study the reasons for this occurrence. No doubt, this issue was one that was of great alarm for Wallace, who described his study as being incredibly time urgent—it was published in Audubon Magazine (a wildlife conservation magazine) the following year to make others aware about his findings, as any later would be of great detriment to the robin population.

Wallace’s concern for the robins is palpable throughout his article, and he makes it very clear that the reason for this all comes down to the use of insecticides, more specifically an agent known as DDT. He claims that despite reassurance from insecticide companies that their products are not harmful to the birds, the robins in East Lansing were dying of insecticide poisoning regardless. Indeed, Wallace goes to identify how ineffective these insecticides are and moves to argue that there is actually no long–term benefit to their use. He appeals to his readers, stating dramatically that the threat of insecticides is one of the greatest threats North American biodiversity will face (including deforestation, hunting, drought and oil pollution) and that humans will recognise insecticides as the “worst biological blunder” (Wallace 1959, p. 151) ever made in the future.

Given that this article was written in 1958, at a time when there was little research regarding human impacts on wildlife, Wallace’s findings are still extremely relevant today. Despite having written a couple of publications on birds and conservation preceding this one, it wouldn’t be until after ‘Insecticides and Birds’ that Wallace would be recognised as an expert in the field of insecticides and biodiversity. Indeed, Wallace’s findings were cited by many after its release, including multiple references made by Rachel Carson.

Reference List

Chunco, A.J. 2014, ‘Hybridization in a warmer world’, Ecology and Evolution, vol. 4, no. 10, viewed 6 August 2016, <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.1052/full&gt;.

Wallace, G.J. 1958, ‘Insecticides and Birds’, Audubon Magazine, Jan–Feb, pp. 147–151.

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