Despite the best efforts of American dentists and accountants to exterminate lions, giraffes and other large mammals in Africa, the continent still supports the greatest diversity of large mammals today. The reason for this is not that Africa has a particularly favourable environment for mammalian diversity. Instead new research shows it is because humans have wiped out so many of them everywhere else.
A group of Danish scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark have released maps of what the world’s distribution of mammals would look like if humans had never existed – and the findings may surprise you. For example as you might expect northern Europe would still be home to wolves, bears and elk – but also to elephants and rhinoceroses too!
They showed in a previous study that the mass extinction of large mammals during and after the last ice age was largely due to the expansion of modern Homo sapiens – better known as humans. This latest research used estimates of species range based upon ecology, biogeography and their natural environment to visualise in a series of maps what the distribution of large mammals would be today without humans. Basically there is a very large deficit in the biodiversity of large mammals in most places, and ironically without humans places like Minnesota and Idaho where the infamous hunters came from would be areas particularly rich in large mammals species today!
As well as reminding us of the massive impact that humans have had on the planet, there are other applications for this research. For example it offers an additional explanation as to why mountainous areas support relatively high diversity of mammals, since rather than viewing the driver as mountains providing isolated habitats leading to evolution of greater diversity they can also be viewed as refuges from human impact on species.
Check out the open access article here.