Lost birds and mammals spell doom for some plants

In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers have gauged how the biodiversity loss of birds and mammals will impact plants’ chances of adapting to human-induced climate warming. The research was funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

More than half of plant species rely on animals to disperse their seeds. In a study published in Science, researchers showed that the ability of animal-dispersed plants to keep pace with climate change has been reduced by 60% due to the loss of mammals and birds that help such plants adapt to environmental change.

Researchers at Rice University, the University of Maryland, Iowa State University and Aarhus University in Denmark used machine learning and data from thousands of field studies to map the contributions of seed-dispersing birds and mammals worldwide. To understand the severity of the declines, the researchers compared maps of seed dispersal today with maps showing what dispersal would look like without human-caused extinctions or species range restrictions.

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