Protecting wildlife across the world could significantly enhance natural carbon capture and storage, new research has shown.
The study, led by Yale School of the Environment Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology Oswald Schmitz and published in Nature Climate Change, was co-authored by 15 scientists from eight countries. It looked at nine wildlife species or groups: marine fish, whales, sharks, Grey Wolves, Wildebeest, Sea Otters, Musk Oxen, African Forest Elephants, and American Bison.
Great Hornbill, Maem Lake, Goa (Roger Ridley).
The data shows that protecting or restoring populations of these animals could collectively facilitate the additional capture of 6.41 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. This amounts to some 95% of the amount needed every year to meet the Paris Agreement target of removing enough carbon from the atmosphere.
Schmitz said: "Wildlife species, throughout their interaction with the environment, are the missing link between biodiversity and climate. This interaction means rewilding can be among the best nature-based climate solutions available to humankind."
Wild animals play a critical role controlling the carbon cycle in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems through a wide range of processes including foraging, nutrient deposition, disturbance, organic carbon deposition and seed dispersal, the research has shown. The dynamics of carbon uptake and storage fundamentally changes with the presence or absence of animals.
Endangering animal populations to the point where they become extinct could flip the ecosystems they inhabit from carbon sinks to carbon sources, according to the study, which shows that solving the climate and biodiversity crises are not separate issues and the restoration of animal populations should be included in the scope of nature-based climate solutions.
Other high potential species across the world include African Buffalo, White Rhino, Puma, Old and New World primates, hornbills, fruit bats, Harbour and Grey Seals and Loggerhead Turtles.
Schmitz O J et al. 2023. Trophic rewilding can expand natural climate solutions. Nature Climate Change. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-023-01631-6