Tracking environmental change to save biodiversity and languages from extinction

Learning from 100,000 years of Earth’s history

Islands ecosystems offer early glimpses, being at the front lines of global change. They are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation, and changing ecological networks (including invasive species) with the loss of unique species and human cultures.

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Particular conditions on islands have made organisms disproportionately vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures such as habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change. A recently published Scientist’s warning paper highlights that 75% of all extinctions worldwide were island species. From: Fernández-Palacios et al., 2021.
Dutch sailors were the first stable inhabitants of the Mauritius islands. The need for food, land and natural resources led the settler population to modify the surrounding environment over the course of the centuries. The modeled soil loss has been classified into three classes: low loss (0–2 tons/hectare/year) in green, moderate (2–12.5 t/ha/yr) in orange, and high (> 12.5 t/ha/yr) in red. Image retrieved from Norder at al., 2017.

Islands of diversity: languages and cultures

It’s the study of the biogeography of Mauritius islands and many other archipelagos that brought Kenneth Rijsdijk to work with Sietze Norder, author of the recently-published book on island biodiversity called: The World in Miniature that traces the rise and fall of island civilizations, and the emergence of novel ecosystems, languages and cultures.

The Map of Linguistic Diversity was created by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Kazimierz J. The index of linguistic diversity is a number ranging between 0 and 1, i.e. a country where many different languages are spoken will have an index closer to 1, while a country where very few different languages are spoken will have an index closer to 0. Image source:
  • 27% of human languages;
  • 25% of critically endangered languages;
  • 50% of endangered languages.
Watch the Biodiversity webinar here:

Restoring those lost relationships

In just the last 40 years, human-induced deforestation and land conversion caused the loss of the same area flooded by sea level rise in the tropical zone over 18000 years of a post-glacial era -concluded Kenneth. At the same time, agricultural practices accelerate soil erosion to a point where what takes 100 years to form is lost in one intense rainfall. Such rapid and profound changes are “ so hard to believe” for biodiversity experts.



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