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Study links declines in vertebrate populations with industrialization

"It has to be somehow caused by human impact," researcher Yun-Xin Fu said of the decline in vertebrate abundance.

By Brooks Hays
Study links declines in vertebrate populations with industrialization
New research links the decline of vertebrate populations with the advent of industrialization. Photo by akiyoko/Shutterstock.

HOUSTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Both biodiversity and biological abundance are on the decline. New research links dwindling vertebrate numbers to industrialization.

Of course, factories themselves didn't kill many of these animals directly. Industrialization is strongly correlated with accelerated human population growth and human development, both of which put greater pressure on the planet's natural resources.

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When researchers looked at rates of decline among 2,764 vertebrate species, they found population numbers began to shrink at an accelerated rate at the same time 19th century industrialization reached its apex.

"Industrialization is the most natural explanation as to why we have rapid population decline in that period of time," Yun-Xin Fu, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said in a news release. "It has to be somehow caused by human impact."

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Fu and his colleagues analyzed population and genetic data from thousands of studies and scientific articles. Of the 2,764 species on which they compiled data, 600 were endangered.

Using a population genetics approach, the researchers built a model to pinpoint population decline. As populations decline, so does genetic diversity.

The results of their analysis -- detailed in the journal PNAS -- show endangered species populations have declined an average of 25 percent per decade for the last 123 years.

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Despite their findings, the study's authors don't advocate privileging genetic conservation over habitat protections.

"Genetic diversity is important to preserving a species from a long-term standpoint," Fu said. "However, preventing the rapid population decline by protecting the native habitats of species appears to be and should be more important because the overall difference of genetic diversity between threatened and non-threatened species is not at an alarming level."

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