Restoring populations of land and marine animals in targeted “rewilding” zones would speed up biological carbon pumps that remove carbon dioxide from the air and sequester the greenhouse gas where it doesn’t harm the climate, new research shows.
An international team of scientists focused the study on marine fish, whales, sharks, gray wolves, wildebeest, sea otters, musk oxen, African forest elephants and American bison as species, or groups of species, that accelerate the carbon cycle. Collectively, they “could facilitate the additional capture” of almost 500 million tons of CO2 by 2100, which would be a big step toward preventing long-term planetary heating of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the authors wrote in Nature.
Recent global climate reports and guidelines on carbon dioxide removal from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other groups of scientists have often overlooked the multiplier effect of animals as a climate benefit, said lead author Oswald Schmitz, professor of population and community ecology at the Yale School of the Environment.
“I think a lot of people have always imagined that animals are so rare,” he said. “So it’s presumed that animals don’t matter, that they don’t have enough biomass to hold much carbon, let alone cycle it into the soil.”
But those species have an “outsized impact on ecosystems by virtue of changing what the bigger pools do,” he said. “And when you start looking at the numbers, the multiplier effects are backed by good science.” [Continue reading…]