We live in unprecedented times. What worked in the 1800s, 1920s, or even the 1980s might not anymore.
As the Internet and our digital social sphere grow ever larger, one would think that an individual’s reach in the world would grow along with it. In reality, however, it’s the inverse.
Although we all have increased access to resources and information, it has not led to the individual gaining more power, but instead the whole of society.
Events like Shay’s Rebellion and the intervention of George Washington don’t really happen anymore because the individual has been swallowed by the whole. Instead, someone, even a world leader, drags up Twitter and sparks debate, ire, and countless think pieces. Which, instead of causing decisive action, only leads to further division and anger on all sides. A new study shows that poor governance actually has the potential to lead to the loss of the species.
Could political leaders such as U.S. Presidents and North Korean Dictators be a threat to humanity?
What do Birds Have to do With Governance?
It is difficult to say which type of government or economic system is “most successful” and that is not the point of this article nor the study that is being discussed. The purpose of the study was to identify new global patterns in biodiversity change.
The study focused on one of the most diverse biomes on Earth: wetlands.
Understanding local drivers of biodiversity change is difficult without robust and comprehensive data. Due to the nature of wetlands, they make the perfect petri dish for this study. The results revealed surprising, human-related reasons for the loss of species.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge focused specifically on birds as indicators of wetland biodiversity. Across 25,769 survey sites, researchers modeled time-series abundance data on 461 waterbird species.
This might not sound like a ton, but it added up to 2.4 million annual count records. The study included environmental impacts of biodiversity since the year 1990 in wetlands across the entire world. These results have implications beyond their wetland habitat.
Study Reveals Trickle-Down Effects of Poor Leadership
Wetland habitats for birds cover around 1.3 billion hectares of our entire planet. This crosses coastal, highland, freshwater locales, and more. Wetlands are also one of the biomes that are most greatly and negatively affected than other ecosystems. Collectively, key bird species numbers have shrunk. But the reasons are not what you might think.
Some of the measuring datasets included violence rates, GDP, conservation efforts, and rule of law. But one of the biggest indicators of biodiversity loss was socio-political stability.
Environmental conservation plays a part, but areas where governance was suboptimal correlated greater waterbird number decline. The most sparse areas were in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western/Central Asia.
The area of least waterbird decline was continental Europe, but numbers were still down.
Tatsuya Amano, the leader of the study, said that national governance impacted waterbird populations more than any other anthropogenic (read: human-related) impact. Amano explained the relation of poor governance to the loss of species to Phys.org.
“Ineffective governance is often associated with lack of environmental enforcement and investment, leading to habitat loss.”
Interestingly, the study also discovered a correlation between the decline in waterbird species and a faster rising GDP.
How Humans Affect Our Environment & Wildlife
Local infrastructure involving dam construction and water management also plays a part in biodiversity decline. Amano went on to say that political instability can impair legal enforcement, therefore promoting “unsuitable, often illegal, killing even in protected areas”. This exacerbates the effects already in progress.
South America saw some of the worst degradation with .95% annually. This amounted to a 21% decline across the span of 25 years in the region. While this represents the worst of the data, it is a statistic to give pause.
To clarify this statement, this study shows that one-fifth of the population of the species studied has disappeared over the last 25 years.
As we know from other initiatives, investing in socio-political and socio-economic stability can lead to all kinds of benefits. Loss of biodiversity can lead to situations such as the elk overpopulation in Colorado since the eradication of wolves.
Human intervention in gene diversity could also soon deprive all of us of a much-beloved smoothie ingredient: Cavendish bananas.
Why Protect Biodiversity?
Studies have also been done on the effects of species loss, but never quite to this scale. You can find out more about biodiversity via this free series on YouTube that covers AP environmental sciences. As we learn more about the effects of humans on the environment and animals, we also learn more about ourselves.
The most telling aspect of this study, it would seem, is the correlation between rising GDP and declining waterbird species. Unstable political leaders lead to a breakdown in societal processes. With how many steps one must go through to effect change, it follows that other species would be affected just as much as we are.