Research has shown that large ecosystems can collapse like a pack of cards once the tipping point is reached. Large biomes the size of the Amazon rainforest can collapse in a few decades. The research pointed out that bigger biomes collapse relatively faster than the small ones. According to the research, once a tipping point is reached, break up does not happen gradually. It occurs rapidly like a stack of Jenga bricks when you dislodge a keystone. Now is the time for all of us to rise to the challenge and act as planet saviours all for our sakes.
The research which was published in the Nature Communications journal alerted policymakers that they have less time than they think to deal with the looming and multiple biodiversities and climate crisis facing the planet. The authors compared 42 previous cases of “regime shift” to examine the relationship between the size of an ecosystem and the speed of its collapse. A regime shift is a term used to describe a change from one state to another. A good example is the collapse of fisheries in Newfoundland, the death of vegetation in the Sahel, desertification of agricultural lands in Niger, bleaching of coral reefs in Jamaica, and also the eutrophication of Lake Erhai in China.
The researchers found that bigger and more complex ecosystems were initially more resilient than small biologically simpler systems. However, once the larger biomes hit a tipping point, they collapse faster because the failures reverberate throughout their modular structure. This tells us that the bigger the ecosystem, the harder it is likely to fall. Now is the time for policymakers to rise to the occasion and do the needful to protect our planet. Not just the policymakers, we all are planet saviours in different ways. You can decide to help by personally adopting a means to reduce your daily carbon footprint.
From the statistical analysis made available in the paper, the authors estimated that an ecosystem the size of the Amazon rainforest could collapse in approximately 50 years upon attaining a tipping point. A system as large as the Caribbean coral reefs (about 20,000 mk2) could fall apart within 15 years once it is triggered.
The paper warns that we must all prepare for regime shifts in any natural system over the human timescale of years and decades. If we think it will happen in multigenerational timescales of centuries and millennia. It is our duty to preserve our planet as planet saviours. All hands must be on deck to save our planet and ensure its survival. We need to prepare for changes in ecosystems that are faster than we previously thought and envisaged through our linear view of the world.
The paper also pointed out that it could be the case in Australia where the recent Australian bushfires proceeded periods of drought. This may indicate a shift to a drier ecosystem. Although scientists were already aware that systems tended to decline faster, they grew, this research now explains the trend. “It is established that the larger the ecosystem, the greater the fragility and its propensity to collapse.” This is according to John Dearing, a professor in physical geography at the University of Southampton and lead author of the research paper.
Professor John warned that we shouldn’t be taken in by the longevity of these ecosystems, simply because they may have been in existence for millions of years. He said they would most likely collapse much more rapidly than we envisaged. According to Professor Dearing, one of the possible implications of the study is that the complete destruction of the Amazon rainforest could occur within his grandchildren’s lifetimes. “This is a research that is satisfying from a scientific standpoint but worrying from a personal point of view.” You would rather not come up with such results, Dearing said.
Another separate study has also warned that Amazon could shift within the next decade into a source of carbon emission. This is against it being a sink because of the damage caused by loggers, farmers, and global heating. The world needs more planet saviours now than even in our history. Many experts have said that these new findings should be a call to action for world leaders and policymakers.
According to Georgina Mace, a professor of biodiversity and ecosystems at the University College London, the combination theory, modeling, and observation should alert us to the risks from human activities that disturb the large and stable ecosystem upon which we depend.
There are certain decisive and effective actions that we can take now, such as protecting the existing forests. We need to manage these forests to maintain their biodiversity, reducing direct pressures from logging, burning, and climate. Ima Viera, an ecologist at Emilio Goeldi in Belem in Brazil, also echoed these views. Vier said that for Brazil to avoid the ecosystem collapse modeled in this study, they will need to strengthen governance when it comes to imposing heavy fines on companies with dirty supply chains.
With the in-depth analysis carried out in this research, it is not universally accepted. Erika Berenguer, a senior research associate at the University of Oxford and Lancaster, opined that the paper relied too much on data from lakes and oceans, hence should not serve as an indicator of what would happen to rainforests. That notwithstanding, the authors said the paper was not a forecast about a particular region; rather, it is a guide to the speed at which change could occur.
The time for all of us to serve as planet saviors is now, and we must play our part no matter how it might seem insignificant.