The Animals That Can Help us Reach our Climate Goals

Researchers have found that increasing the population of certain animal species could lead to the capture of 6.41 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Researchers have found that increasing the population of certain animal species could lead to the capture of 6.41 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. Image: Pixabay

Reading Time: 2 minutes

As humans try to fix the problems of climate change that they inevitably cause, they may be overlooking a very helpful, natural solution that could help restore ecosystems and capture and store carbon dioxide. Researchers from the Yale School of the Environment have found that robust populations of nine animal species could improve nature capture and carbon dioxide sequestration within ecosystems. They estimated that increasing the populations of African forest elephants, American bison, fish, gray wolves, musk oxen, sea otters, sharks, whales and wildebeest, among others, could lead to the capture of 6.41 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. About 95 percent of the amount needed to be removed to ensure global warming remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a threshold set by the Paris Agreement.  

The researchers found that in many cases where thriving populations of certain species were foraging, burrowing, and trampling, the ecosystem’s carbon storage increased by as much as  250 percent. This was a direct result of the dispersal of seeds and the growth of carbon-sequestering trees and plants. In Africa, every increase of 100 000 animals can increase carbon sequestered by 15 percent. Wildebeests consume carbon in the grasses they eat and then excrete it in their dung. The carbon is integrated into the soil by insects. Wildebeests also manage the grasses and help reduce the risk of wildfires.

Whales feed in deep water and release nutrients in their waste at shallower depths. This stimulates phytoplankton production, which is essential for storing carbon in the ocean. In the Amazon rainforests, tapirs are known to frequent areas that need reseeding. With a diet of herbs, shrubs, and leaves rich in nutrients, these animals leave trails of seeds in their waste and have been convenient in areas where lands have been burned.

For these solutions to be successful, the researchers recommend strengthening current animal recovery efforts. They also recommend reassessing the legislation, policies and funding to aid the conservation of these animals, many of whose numbers have been reduced by human intervention. They found that as animals become extinct in an ecosystem, their absence could transform habitats from carbon sinks to carbon sources – this makes protecting these species extremely important They also stress that it will be important to work closely with local communities to address the complex social issues that can affect conservation efforts This would involve including the local community into decision-making and governance processes and taking into account their knowledge, values and attitudes toward rewilded species.

This is just the beginning of important research that could help us reduce the impacts of climate change with a very natural solution. Protecting these animals, among many others, and their habitats can help shorten the time needed o reach our climate goals and help us live healthier lives for our populations and the planet.

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