Reconnecting the Web of Life: Rewiring and Network Robustness

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Species Loss and Cascading Effects

Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Minimising the effects the ongoing Anthropocene mass extinction has become one of the main challenges of our era. The data suggest that the current rate of species loss is 100–1,000 greater than the background rates seen in the geological record. “But does it really matter if species are lost?” This question has permeated social and political debates. It’s usually used to demean conservation efforts. But it has also intrigued conservation scientists.

We know that species don’t occur alone in their environment. They’re entangled by their interactions, forming complex networks. In these networks the loss of one species may result in the loss of other species that depend on it. This process is known as co-extinction. Estimates of the magnitude of past and future extinction rates have often failed to account for the interdependence among species and the consequences of primary species loss on other species though. Continue reading