And if man hadn't existed, what would the Earth look like?

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With some ifs, we could bottle Paris. Everybody knows the saying. In this case, Paris would not be bottled but would look like the Serengeti Park in Tanzania, with elephants, giraffes and rhinoceroses roaming the site of the current Champs Elysées. A late night delirium with a little too much alcohol? Not at all. These are the results of a very serious study carried out by researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark. In order to measure man's impact on biodiversity, they played a game of "what if?".
 
Vn the area of biodiversity, humans are decidedly not popular with scientists. Two studies show what we already know more or less: without humans, biodiversity would be greater than it is today. A study published by Science ...even to the point of striking out: " man is the most dangerous super-predator in the entire animal kingdom. ». We suspected that our increasingly massive presence on this planet could not have taken place without some damage to other species. But the two studies that have just been published show beyond doubt just how far we've come.
 
The scientists at the University of Aarus, Søren Faurby and Jens-Christian Svenning, are specialists in biodiversity and species extinction. In an article published last year in Science and TechnologyThey had been able to establish that the mass extinctions of large mammals during the last ice age and the millennia that followed it were not due solely to climate change but were also, and perhaps above all, due to the expansion of modern man throughout the world. According to them, in places where fauna and flora were confronted with man, at least a third of the major species were disappearing. Their latest study published by the specialist journal Diversity and Distributions aims to demonstrate what the state of biodiversity would be today if homo sapiens didn't exist. They thus drew up two comparative maps of the diversity of large mammals (over 45 kg) today and in a world without humans. According to these maps, if we did not exist, the landscape of our latitudes would look like that of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania with giant mammals such as rhinos and elephants roaming around...
Researchers have constructed the new world map by predicting the distribution of the animals now extinct according to their ecology, biogeography and the natural conditions of the current environment. This work had never been done before.
 
 
The current distribution of mammalian diversity. It is observed that only Africa retains a large number of species. Credit: Soren Faurby / University of Aarhus
 
Map of biodiversity if modern humans had not existed
 
Questioned by the magazine IFL ScienceProfessor Jens-Christian Svenning, co-author of the study, says: " Europe is far from being the only place where human presence has reduced mammalian diversity. It is a global phenomenon. He goes on to say: "In most cases, there is a very sharp decline in diversity from what it should have been naturally... ".
 
The maps show that biodiversity is increased in areas of low population intensity. "Most safaris today are in Africa," says Søren Faurby, co-author of the study. "But under natural circumstances, you would find as many or more large animals elsewhere in the world. In Texas, for example, or in Argentina and Brazil. For the researcher, the explanation lies in the very low level of urbanization on the African continent. "It is one of the only places in the world where human activity has not yet completely eliminated all large animals.
The biodiversity of a geographical area would therefore be directly linked to its human demography. Thus mountainous regions remain, to a certain extent, preserved. « In Europe, the brown bear now lives only in the mountains, because it was driven from the plains by humans."says Søren Faurby in IFL Science. Our environment is now densely urbanized, so species other than our own are less likely to survive if not thrive. The study focuses on mammals weighing more than 45 kg, but other smaller organisms are similarly housed. This is evidenced by the tragic fate of bees that we've been relating in our pages until recently. It is the same for the flora, incessantly subjected to the assaults of man since it has existed.
 
This work is part of a field of study that is hotly debated in the scientific community with arguments that are valid both for the proponents of the extinction of species that would be caused by the climate and by man. Both sides are certainly right. Nonetheless, this research that tries to understand the past is useful, because it can help us to build a future that is not as dark as the one we are heading toward.
 

 

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