Science | Design & Technology

Nature turning into McDonalds, experts warn

Can the hunt for lost species save biodiversity? As scientists issue a chilling warning that our world is going the way of an American fast food chain, is there a glimmer of hope? Nature's most wanted: a tree kangaroo, a tap-dancing spider, a long-beaked echidna. All critically endangered and hard to find. Experts fear we are running out of time to save them. The pandemic delayed a UN meeting on biodiversity. "The longer we wait, the more diversity is lost," warns biologist Alice Hughes. A UN report predicts one million species could disappear, "many within decades", and ecosystems "are becoming more similar". But there is hope. Scientists are searching for Lazarus species, lost for over ten years. Like the silver-backed Chevrotain and the Fernandina Giant Tortoise. In Rwanda, they have found the Hills' horseshoe bat, last seen in 1981. It "has been flying for forty years, unknown to humans, living this secret life," says expert Winifred Frick. Experts say these endemic species help us understand ecosystems. And before we can save it, we need to know "the distribution of, and threats to, a species," says expert Barney Long. He works for Re:wild, looking for around 2,200 species. He says these finds are "a powerful cure for despair." But is it enough? They are still at risk of extinction and their habitats are under threat. Biologist R Alexander Pyron says "extinction is part of evolution" and we should accept it. We think of the dodo as a slow, stupid bird that went extinct 300 years ago. But expert Julian Hume says it was smart, quick and "perfectly adapted to its environment." But invasive species like pigs disrupted its ecosystem. So scientists say habitat conservation is key and leaders must agree to protect 30% of the Earth's surface by 2030. The UN conference is this summer. Brian O'Donnell of the Campaign for Nature says: "there has never been this much support for conservation". What happens next will affect all life on Earth. Can the hunt for lost species save biodiversity? Most wanted Yes: Rediscovered species show the resilience of nature, faced with the challenges of human activity and climate change. The dedication of researchers to these species can inspire all of us to do more.

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