Story at a glance

  • A new study has predicted that great apes, humans’ closest relative, could lose 85 percent or more of their African homelands by 2050.
  • The study accounted for the effects of climate change, environmental destruction and surges in the human population of the great apes’ habitat.
  • The study found that 85 percent of the habitat would be lost if action was taken, and 94 percent of the habitat would be lost if nothing was done.

Humans’ closest relative, great apes, could lose 85 percent or more of their African homelands by 2050, a new study predicts.

Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the ongoing threats of global warming, wildlife destruction and a surge in the human population are now threatening to wipe out their habitat. 

“It’s a perfect storm for many of our closest genetic relatives, many of which are flagship species for conservation efforts within Africa and worldwide,” Joana Carvalho, a biologist and computer modeller at Liverpool John Moores University who led the study, told The Guardian. “If we add climate change to the current causes of territory loss, the picture looks devastating.”


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The study, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, used data on great ape populations from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s apes database, modeling and analyzing the figures after accounting for the effects of climate change, environmental destruction and surges in human population. 

Conducted in tandem by teams of scientists from nearly 50 universities, research institutes and conservation organizations, the study projected two possible outcomes: one, if efforts to combat the impending effects are taken, and the other, where nothing is done. 

The study found that by 2050, 85 percent of the habitat would be lost even if action was taken, and 94 percent of the habitat would be lost if nothing was done. 

“What is predicted is really bad,” Carvalho told the Guardian.


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A majority of the species flock to habitats in the lowlands, but climate change is projected to make the environment uninhabitable as it becomes hotter and drier. While some of the great ape species could attempt to resettle in the uplands, the scientists don’t believe a suitable number of the population would be able to make the migration in time.

“As climate change forces the different types of vegetation to essentially shift uphill, it means that all animals — not only great apes — that depend on particular habitat types will be forced to move uphill or become locally extinct,” Fiona Maisels, a conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and a contributor to the research, told the Guardian. “But when the hills are low, many species will not be able to go higher than the land allows, and huge numbers of animals and plants will simply vanish.”


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Published on Jun 07, 2021