We Take Up Too Much Space
Not exactly a revelation, right? I think most of us know that humans are completely dominating the planet, spreading all over it and leaving no room for other species. But now science has confirmed it, and shows that the vast amount of space that we take up is affecting how non-human mammals move.
Officially, we take up around 50-70% of the Earth’s land surface. Research (the first of its kind to study movement behaviours for such a wide range of mammals globally), shows that our gigantic footprint infringes on the footprints of mammals both big and small, all over the world. And the research was comprehensive, with more than 100 scientists contributing information on 803 individual mammals representing 57 species.
On average, mammals living in human-modified habitats move two to three times less far than their counterparts in areas untouched by humans. We are squeezing them into smaller and more restricted areas and this impacts their lives. All organisms need space, to gather resources, find food and mates, and to perform ecological services. For example, bats need room to find and consume insects and pollinate plants, and top predators need room to hunt which in turn controls other species’ populations.
In a nutshell, our dominion over the planet gets in the way of animals’ ability to do their thing. When we take habitat away from other animals, they cannot carry out the basic things they need to survive. Food and living space becomes scarce, and they can’t just move further away to reach more if human-modified landscapes are in the way. It’s simple – if there is no uninterrupted landscape available, then they just can’t live there anymore so they disappear.
Small mammals like rodents may be able to cope, they don’t move that far anyway. But if we truly want the continued survival of large mammals like tigers, elephants or lions then we have to change our ways. Many of these species provide important functions for us too, like transporting nutrients and seeds between different areas. And mammals moving between different areas bring different species together, allowing for interactions in food webs that might otherwise not occur. These make ecosystems more resilient and functional, and many other species are dependent upon these movements occurring, so the small mammals could be affected after all.
The vast data generated by the study across all these different mammals points to one conclusion. The impact of our presence does not discriminate by geographic location, body size or where that species sits in the food chain. We do not discriminate, our actions hurt them all.
And there is no end in sight. Our population keeps growing and growing and we continue to transform landscapes wherever we go, be that due to housing, urban development or industries or whatever else we think we need. At the root of it all is our huge population, and if we don’t address the issue we will continue to restrict the basic space and resources that other animals need. If these needs aren’t met, the animals will be lost.