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Human-altered environments benefit the same cosmopolitan species all over the world

Dec. 4 (UPI) — As humans continue to alter the landscape and transform environments, ecosystems across the globe are becoming increasingly homogenous.

New research suggests the same cosmopolitan species are taking advantage of humankind’s environmental disruption. And as the same cosmopolitan species thrive across planet Earth, more unique species are disappearing.

To quantify the phenomenon, a team of researchers surveyed dozens of studies focused on population dynamics in human-influenced habitat — urban, suburban and agricultural environs.

“We sourced data from other published papers that measured populations in different types of habitat — natural habitats and areas used by humans,” Tim Newbold, a researcher at the University College London, told UPI in an email.

Newbold and his research partner, Andy Purvis at the Natural History Museum in London, used statistical methods to account for differences in the way populations were sampled in each study.

In total, researchers compiled population data from studies carried out by 500 researchers in 81 countries. The data provided fresh insights in the ranges of 20,000 different species of animals and plants.

The efforts of Newbold and Purvis — published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology — showed species that already occupy a large area tend to benefit from human-influenced habitat. Meanwhile, rarer species with smaller ranges tend to be negatively affected when humans alter the environment.

Newbold says the study confirms what many people are already aware of: the ubiquitous presence of rats on farms and pigeons in cities.

Previous studies have shown biodiversity has been declining for thousands of years, as humans have expanded across the globe — and evolution can’t keep up.

The new research didn’t attempt to explain the phenomenon, but previous studies have offered explanations for why some animals and plants benefit from human incursions.

“Some previous research has suggested that characteristics such as having a wide diet, being more adaptable to disturbance, breeding more quickly and being of smaller size may allow cosmopolitan species to thrive in human-impacted areas,” Newbold said.

As to what can be done, researchers say conservation efforts should focus on habitat that is vital to rarer, geographically isolated species. Humans must also reduce their ecological footprint.

“Our research suggests that reducing the area we use for farming and settlements will help species other than the cosmopolitan ones, for example by reducing the amount we consume,” Newbold said. “And also adopting less intensive farming practices — although this can lead to a greater area of farmland required.”

Newbold and his research partners are currently studying the impacts of climate change on cosmopolitan species.

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