Bushfires And Mass Extinctions: What Can Happen In Australia

Scientists have warned that the world may soon see a sudden mass extinction if the catastrophic bushfires in Australia continue to grow. It will not be the first time that wildfires will cause sudden loss of life on the planet. 

The large fires already damaged biodiversity in many parts of the country. The devastation threatens to kill more animals and plants in the coming weeks since heatwaves are expected to hit in the summer. 

Australia is known as one of the "megadiverse" countries, according to Mike Lee, a professor of evolutionary biology at Flinders University in Australia. Unfortunately, the majority of the country’s species live in the areas affected by the current bushfires.

The Gondwana Rainforests of New South Wales and Queensland are two World Heritage listed forests that serve as home to insects and a huge range of land snails. Large parts of the areas have already been torched this summer. 

Lee said the fires could kill both mammals and birds. But small, less mobile invertebrates have the highest risk of facing extinction. 

“The bushfires have been rightly described as unprecedented, and extinctions can play out over an extended period,” Lee said in an article posted on The Conversation. “The full gravity of the impending catastrophe is not yet clear.”

Fire has driven extinctions in the past. For example, the 10-kilometer wide asteroid that hit Earth nearly 66 million years ago caused deadly global firestorms that killed the dinosaurs. 

The world lost 75 percent of all species at that time. Lee said the ancient catastrophe serves as evidence that firestorms can contribute to extensive extinctions, killing even large vertebrates with high mobility and bigger distributions.

To date, bushfires have been linked to faster loss of wildlife in different parts of the world, such as Australia, the Amazon, Canada, California and Siberia

“Yet their long-term extinction effects could also be severe, because our planet has already lost half its forest cover due to humans,” Lee added. “These fires are hitting shrunken biodiversity refuges that are simultaneously threatened by an anthropogenic cocktail of pollution, invasive feral species, and climate change.”

Australia Fire In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria, a helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Ninian Reid/State Government of Victoria via flickr

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