Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a 'biological holocaust'

A leading biologist has called for a radical conservation strategy in an attempt to prevent the 'mass extinction' of species

Half the planet should be set aside solely for the protection of wildlife to prevent the “mass extinction” of species, according to one of the world’s leading biologists.

The radical conservation strategy proposed by Dr E.O. Wilson, the hugely-influential 85-year old Harvard University scientist, would see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth.

Dr Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, warned that we are facing a “biological holocaust” as devastating as the extinction of the dinosaurs unless humans agree to share land more equally with the planet’s 10 million other species.

Outlining his audacious “Half Earth” theory, he said: “It’s been in my mind for years that people haven’t been thinking big enough – even conservationists.

“I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish,” he told the journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Dr Wilson, who is considered the world’s preeminent advocate of biodiversity, wants to create a series of “Long Landscape” wildlife chains to help species to respond to the effects of climate change by moving around.

These “corridors” running vertically down continents will let species move north as temperatures rise, for example, while those going horizontally will enable species to move east as rainfall declines in the west, Dr Wilson said.

He pointed to the Yellowstone-to-Yukon conservation initiative running 2,000 miles from Wyoming in the mid-west of the US to the Yukon territories in the north west of Canada as a good example of the kind of protected area he would like to see become extremely widespread. The area encompasses and protects an entire mountain eco-system, giving species 502,000 square miles of uninterrupted land to roam.

Scale is important because “islandisation” can have a disastrous impact on wildlife, according to Dr Wilson, whose theory of island biogeography is regarded as the authoritative explanation for why confined landscapes inevitably lose species.

Small areas can become islands, and without ‘bridges’  to connect them to similar habitats, species are more likely to become extinct. This is partly because wildlife need to draw from a broad gene pool to avoid the “genetic anomalies” that become more likely when breeding with relatives.

Furthermore, island populations are disproportionately vulnerable to disease, over hunting or catastrophic events like floods or fires and linking habitats together provides a life-line by helping the movement of species and their genes, scientists say.

Dr Wilson’s career has earned him huge credibility. But observers say he will have his work cut out translating his vision into anything approaching reality.

Even the hugely wealthy and sparsely populated US protects only four per cent of its land in the way Dr Wilson would like to see half of the entire world protected.

“Half earth is the goal but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang on to,” says Dr Wilson. “Battles are where the fun is and where the most rapid advances are made,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee