An ecological crisis is a natural phenomenon that occurs when one or more of our biological systems (such as ecosystems, species, and ecosystems-related services) are stressed by an environmental change or a change in our environment, including population, biodiversity, food availability, water, etc. This can have devastating effects on wildlife populations.
For example, a recent report by the Global Commission on Ecosystem Services (GECOS) showed that over 50% of the world’s species could face extinction if climate change continues unabated.
The global impacts of this scenario include a significant increase in species extinctions and loss of habitat.
But the question is whether there is a sustainable solution to this crisis and how we can restore the balance of nature within the system.
A number of studies have examined the ecological consequences of the increasing use of agriculture, with an eye towards identifying the specific ecological impacts of these new food systems.
But there are currently very few studies that focus on the impact of a wider range of animal agriculture practices.
One such study, published in 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), looked at the impacts of intensive animal agriculture on the global population of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
The authors examined data from a large number of countries to establish a baseline of population density (how many animals are living on the planet), food availability (how much land animals need to eat to survive), and climate (how well animals adapt to climate change).
This led to the hypothesis that an increased level of agricultural production is likely to increase the number of animals on the Earth and increase the need for animal agriculture to feed these animals.
The team also determined that increased use of animals is likely due to a variety of factors, including habitat degradation, overgrazing and climate change, and that these factors are likely to continue to impact the species.
In fact, their findings indicated that over-abundance of grazing and over-use of agricultural land may have an increasing effect on the ecological health of the animals living in these habitats.
The study concluded that increased food availability and greater demand for animal foods may be responsible for an increasing level of extinctions of mammals in these regions.
The scientists found that over the past decade, the number and severity of extirpations of mammals has increased by 30% in the Northern Hemisphere.
Over-abounding of pastureland and overgrowing of pasturelands have also increased significantly, with overgrows increasing by 40% over the last decade.
In addition, there was a significant decrease in the availability of land for wildlife populations, as the number, extent and frequency of extinction events have increased.
The researchers concluded that overpopulation of animals in the world is increasing in the most extreme regions of the globe, including the North Atlantic, South Pacific, Western Pacific, North and Central America, South Africa and Australia, with the majority of these regions having a very high degree of over-exploitation.
The paper found that the majority (70%) of extalpations and extinctions in the Southern Hemisphere occurred in the last ten years, with large areas of land-based mammals extirping, as well as the most severe extinctions occurring in the southernmost regions of Europe, North Africa and India.
The results of this study, and those of other studies, suggest that a wide range of agricultural practices may be contributing to an increase in the number or severity of animal extinctions, including over-extension of land and overbreeding of animals.
They suggest that this is a consequence of a number of factors including habitat loss and overuse of animals, increased demand for agricultural products, and increased consumption of animal foods.
The next step for conservation and restoration of the balance between nature and man is to examine the extent to which the new agriculture practices have an impact on the overall ecosystem.