Extinction cascades will wipe out more than a quarter of world biodiversity

A new tool developed by European and Australian scientists has shown that extinction cascades caused by land use and climate change will wipe out more than a quarter of the world’s biodiversity.

Using one of Europe’s most powerful supercomputers, the scientists created synthetic Earths with virtual species and more than 15,000 food webs to predict the interconnected fate of species that will likely disappear due to climate and land-use changes.

The tool confirms that the world is experiencing its 6th mass extinction event.

Previous approaches to predicting extinction trajectories over the next century have not taken into account co-extinctions, which are species that go extinct because other species on which they depend succumb to climate change and/or changes to the landscape.

The new tool addresses this problem by building a massive virtual Earth of interconnected species networks linked by who eats whom, and then applying climate and land-use changes to the system to inform future projections. The virtual species can adapt to some extent to changing conditions, can go extinct directly from global change, or can fall victim to an extinction cascade.

The scientists found that there will be up to 34% more co-extinctions overall by 2100 than are predicted from direct effects alone. Co-extinctions will also raise the total extinction rate of the most vulnerable species by up to 184% by the end of the century.

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