If man-made climate change continues at current rates, today’s elephants, giraffes, and hippos may be tomorrow’s dinosaurs.
In fact, according to a recent study that appeared in the journal “Science,” if climate change continues unabated, cows — yes, cows — may eventually become the world’s largest mammal, as larger land species die off.
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The study, authored by Felisa Smith, a professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico, found that larger mammals like elephants, giraffes, and hippos are at the highest risk of extinction related to the loss of habitat associated with climate change.
The authors of the study estimated that these extinctions could happen over the course of the next several hundred years if large mammals are not sufficiently protected.
Cows, well, they’re doing okay.
“[T]he largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900 kg,” the authors wrote.
Cows aside, large mammals are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they “do not have the luxury of rapid microevolution or sufficient range shifts as strategies for adjusting to climate change,” according to another study.
“There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominids out of Africa,” Smith told Reuters.
With that in mind, Smith’s study did not, notably, take into account the world’s largest mammal — the blue whale — or other marine mammals, which are nonetheless also threatened by rising global temperatures.
While the Science study paints a grim picture, others are hopeful it’s not too late for large land mammals to adapt.
“Happily, I don’t think it’s very likely [that cows will become the world’s largest mammal],” Thomas Brooks, chief scientist of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told Reuters, saying that although large animals may face greater dangers from climate change, they also often benefit from greater protection and conservation efforts.
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