Charlie Cooper was formerly Media Relations Manager at Fauna & Flora International
There’s a common thread running through several of the week’s major nature news stories: complexity. A study about one species, the puma, and how it interacts with hundreds of others demonstrates the beautiful complexity of biodiversity. A range of stories about fishing, forests and seabed dredging highlight the complexity of our relationship with nature and the countless ways we’re harming it. Finally, an important academic assessment of land use challenges us to face up to the complexity of the task of protecting and restoring nature.
To start with the awe-inspiring bit, a fascinating new study covered by the Guardian’s Phoebe Weston reveals the complex web of life supported by just one species, the puma. A review of 162 previous studies, published in Mammal Review, shows that no fewer than 485 other species are directly or indirectly affected by the presence of pumas, from the 281 species that feed on their kills, to the plants that flourish thanks to the ‘fear effect’ on grazers that they prey on. Senior author Dr Mark Elbroch, of Panthera, said the study highlighted the “truly amazing” complexity of life. “All of these relationships are occurring all the time, all around us, so I just enjoyed the fact that this paper was a celebration of this species and a celebration of life.”
Small invertebrates and plants living within puma territories, such as Torres del Paine National Park, are just a few of the species benefiting from the big cats’ existence. Credit: Exzozis/AdobeStock
Protecting that beautiful complexity is itself a fiendishly complex task. The EU’s environment chief, Virginijus Sinkevicius was at the UN last week setting out his top-level priorities for 2022, the Washington Post reports, via AP. “This year must be the year of the oceans,” Sinkevicius said. “This year must be the year of biodiversity. … (and) it is essential to get plastics under control and the only way to do it is globally.” Meanwhile, in Westminster, a new all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on global deforestation has been formed, co-chaired by Labour’s Anna McMorrin and former Conservative Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling. With a major government consultation on how to implement the Environment Act’s new deforestation due diligence plans entering its final month, they’ll have their hands full.
Biodiversity protection comes with a complex web of benefits too – not least a likely reduction to the risk of future virus ‘spillovers’ from nature. Post-COVID, everyone in the world knows how valuable that could be and a new Harvard University-led paper published in Science Advances and covered by Damian Carrington in the Guardian sets out how global surveillance of viruses in wildlife, better control of hunting and wildlife trade, and protection of forests could cost a fraction of the economic hit already wrought by zoonotic viruses.
Sinkevicius’ assessment that this must be the year of oceans certainly feels pertinent. The first of several major marine-focused international summits kicks off on Wednesday, with the One Ocean Summit in France (good summary here in the Guardian), and this week three separate marine biodiversity stories are making the news. The challenges posed by industrial-scale fishing were starkly highlighted off the coast of France last week when around 100,000 dead fish spilled from a supertrawler, Reuters reports; in the UK concerns are mounting over the mysterious deaths of crustaceans on the north-east coast of England, with some researchers linking the incidents to dredging of the seabed to build the new Tees freeport; and finally in a flicker of good news, Iceland’s government has said it could (finally) call time on commercial whaling by 2024, Deutsche Welle reports.
A seahorse caught in plastic pollution, Cambodia. World leaders are due to make substantial commitments towards reducing plastic pollution and other major threats to our oceans at the One Ocean Summit in France. Credit: Morokot Long/FFI
Finally, the full complexity inherent in questions of land use and nature protection is laid out comprehensively this week in a new policy paper by 50 leading experts in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Helen Briggs covers the paper for the BBC, highlighting the 10 “hard truths” set out by the authors. Food for thought.
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