Some of Asia’s largest animals, including tigers and elephants, are braving 12,000 years of extinction trends by thriving alongside humans, a University of Queensland-led study has revealed.
Researchers searched paleontological data to compare the historical distributions of Asia’s 14 largest species with their populations in today’s tropical forests.
PhD candidate Zachary Amir, of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Cascades Lab, said four species — tigers, Asian elephants, wild boars and clouded leopards — showed greater populations in areas with human infrastructure.
“These results show that, under the right conditions, some large animals can live near humans and avoid extinction,” said Mr Amir.
“These results challenge the narrative in some conservation circles that humans and megafauna are incompatible.
Globally, there is a trend towards ‘trophic degradation’, a term that refers to the disproportionate loss of the world’s largest animals.
“Trophic degradation is usually worst near humans as hunters target larger species. But in the case of tigers, elephants, wild boars and clouded leopards, their Asian populations are higher near humans.
“This may be the result of tougher efforts against poachers in the national parks that are closer to human settlements and more frequented by tourists.”
The study also found that deforestation was still affecting species, and clouded leopard numbers in those areas, in particular, declined sharply.
But Mr Amir said the study showed that if the large animal species are not hunted, they can live in relatively small habitats and close to people.
“Previously, there were only a few examples of large Asian species that thrive in small habitats near humans, particularly in Mumbai, India, where leopards hunt stray dogs in an urban park,” said Mr Amir, citing an earlier UQ -study.
“Fortunately, we have found that a greater number of animals can coexist with humans.”
At one of their research sites in Singapore, where poaching has been eliminated and significant efforts are being made to restore the forest, two large animal species are thriving again.
“Singapore has experienced the natural re-wilding of sambar deer and wild boar, which are now commonly sighted in an urban forest, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve,” said Mr Amir.
“If we repeat those conservation efforts in larger forests and other provinces, we could see positive effects around the world.
“But before this can happen, people need to join forces and limit poaching.”
While there are some positive results, UQ’s Dr. Matthew Luskin said the study also noted sharp declines in tapirs, Sumatran rhinoceroses, sun bears, guar and other large animals.
“The main innovation of this work has been to systematically examine the population trends of many different animal species in the region,” said Dr. Luskin.
“We then tested whether all species showed consistent trends and whether comparable parks have retained similar species. Remarkably, we did not find two forests that currently have the same group of wildlife compared to thousands of years ago.”
dr. Luskin said the research, which appears in scientific progressoffered an opportunity to shape the future of nature.
“These results offer hope for wildlife in forests previously thought to be too degraded or too close to cities,” he said. “Now we are exploring new conservation strategies for these surprising places.”
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Zachary Amir, Megafauna extinctions produce idiosyncratic Anthropocene assemblages, scientific progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciaadv.abq2307. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abq2307
Quote: Avoiding extinction: Some Asian animals thrive near humans (2022, October 21) retrieved October 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-extinction-asian-animals-humans.html
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