Who Will Survive The 6th Mass Extinction?

It’s no secret that our success as a specieshas been pretty bad for a lot of other species on earth. In fact, some scientists believe we are currently in the midst of Earth’s6th mass extinction event, caused entirely by us. Us, taking up more land that used to be wild habitat, using up more fresh water, and belching out greenhouse gases that are changing the climate. So, for many species, we’re just terrible news, but there are exceptions. Some species even seem to thrive in the biggest most densely populated cities -those animals that we see in our downtowns and suburbs and exurbs,the ones that are best with putting up with us may well be the survivors of the sixth extinction. So what’s their secret? Okay, I’m not passing judgement here, but there are a lot of animals out there that when it comes to getting alongin increasingly human dominated world aren’t really survivor material. These are animals that are the most sensitive to disturbances in their habitat. Their just not flexible about things like what they need to eat or where they need to sleepor when and where they mate. Animals like these, like large predators and ground nesting birdsare “urban avoiders” and they’re in the most danger from encroaching human development. But lots of other species are so thoroughly accustomed to living living with humans that they’ve becomeregular city dwellers. They’re practically right in front of you in line at Starbucks. These are urban exploiters. And the most obvious example, for anyone who’s ever been in any city, is the feral pigeon. Also know as the “rock dove,” it used to make it’s home on the cliffs and rock faces of Europe. But the most successful survivors are probably creatures that, though they still maintain populations in the wild,are extremely flexible around people. These so called, “urban adaptors,” have been able to take advantage of the way humans alter their natural habitatby altering themselves. Many of these adaptors are mammals, specifically, carnivoresand they tend to have some features in common. One of these is body size. They’re neither too big nor too small. Small animals can’t traverse the vast fragmented habitat of cities to find enough food. But big animals are often considered dangerous by humans and are eliminated. Plus, they need more space to roam and hunt. So you don’t see many mountain lions waiting at your corner bus stop. Another thing that successful adaptors have in common is an ability to change their circadian rhythmsor daily biological cycles to become more active at night than they were in the wild. Both bears and coyotes are good examples of this. In the wild, their counterparts are usually at home laying low at nightbut in the city night time is when you are free to look for food without running into a noisy human. Which takes us to our third trait:The best urban adaptors also tend to be diet generalistswhich just means they can adapt to whatever food is available. Like it’s kind of adorable that all giant pandas wanna eat is bamboo but they wouldn’t last very longin London or New York or Mumbai because those cities don’t have that one thing that they have a taste for. But humans provide a great deal of food for animals that are willing to experiment. Urban raccoons, for example, have managed to make a living eating almost nothing but our trash. Bears aren’t above grazing through our garbage either and they love the fruit trees in our yards. And scavengers, like crows, are totally happy to eat roadkill – a source or calories that wouldn’t be available if it weren’t for us. So when it comes to surviving the sixth mass extinction,biological flexibility seems to be the name of the game. And maybe it’s not all bad news. The urban niche offers a pretty specific combination of both resources and threatsso like any ecological niche, it will benefit a very specific type of creature. Some ecologists think that the urban environment might even help provide a way for some species that are in trouble. Take the peregrine falconIn the 1960’s it was all but extinct in North Americabut then it was introduced into cities like New York and Montreal where it found plenty of pigeons to eatand cliff-like buildings to nest in. And today, falcons are found nearly all over the continent including in our biggest cities. As we reshape the world, we change habitats. So as we keep building cities and replacing old habitats with new ones, we might want to keep in mind thatwe’re basically picking winners and losers in the next great extinction. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow. If you’d like to help us keep exploring the worldjust go to subbable. com/scishow and find out how you can become a supporter. And don’t forget to go to youtube. com/scishow and subscribe.

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