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It’s Not You, It’s Humanity

Posted on February 2, 2016 by in The OFI Blog

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Illustration by Aniko Toth

Through the National Museum of Natural History’s (NMNH) Evolving Terrestrial Ecosystems program, several Smithsonian Peter Buck Fellows including Matt Davis, Silvia Pineda-Munoz, and Antoine Bercovici, alongside Natural History Research Experience (NHRE) intern Aniko Toth took part in years of research on land communities and humans’ impact on their drastic change since the Ice Age. Smithsonian Geologist, S. Kathleen Lyons from NMNH is the lead author on the paper about the study which is entitled “Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts.”

The study delves into the break from a 300 million year trend of specie co-occurrence. Before the Halocene epoch, which is when the change occurred, species were shown to exist within communities (co-occurrence) and not apart from one another, but that trend has been declining. The researchers used computer simulations and fossils to identify patterns concerning co-occurrence rates and saw that the likelihood for co-occurrence has lowered in the past 6,000 years. The cause of this change seems to be humans due to the population boom and their agricultural society, a practice that drastically and permanently
altered the environment and disrupted migratory patterns and behaviors. The disruption of millions of years of stable land community patterns is further explored in the published paper.

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Fossils analyzed in recent study on land communities

For more information on the researchers’ findings read the full paper in Nature here.