back to news June 19, 2013

Anthropologist Predicts Major Threat to Species Within 40 Years

Jeffrey McKee, professor of anthropology, is lead author of a new study finding that ongoing global growth in the human population will inevitably crowd out mammals and birds and has the potential to threaten hundreds of species with extinction within 40 years.

“The data speak loud and clear that not only human population density, but the growth of the human population, is still having an effect on extinction threats to other species,” said McKee.

McKee and his team—including undergraduate Julia Guseman and former graduate student Erica Chambers—determined that the average growing nation should expect at least 3.3 percent more threatened species in the next decade and an increase of 10.8 percent species threatened with extinction by 2050. The United States ranks sixth in the world in the number of new species expected to be threatened by 2050, the research showed.

The study, Human Population Density and Growth Validated as Extinction Threats to Mammal and Bird Species, is published this week in the journal Human Ecology.

Though previous research has suggested a strong relationship between human population density and the number of threatened mammal and bird species at a given point in time, McKee and his team of scientists are the first to show that the exponential growth of the human population will continue to pose a threat to other species.

It has long been suspected that the number of threatened species today could be linked to the size, density and growth of the human population. McKee and team set out to prove a causal link between human population density and threats to species of mammals and birds that can be quantified, not only at present, but as the human population grows.

The findings suggest that any truly meaningful biodiversity conservation efforts must take the expanding human population footprint into consideration—a subject that many consider taboo.

“You can do all the conservation in the world that you want, but it’s going to be for naught if we don’t keep the human population in check,” McKee said.


Read the press release, courtesy of Emily Caldwell, assistant director, Ohio State Research and Innovation Communications.


McKee, a physical anthropologist, conducts research on hominid evolution and paleoecology. He has directed excavations at the early hominid sites of Taung and Makapansgat, and has published on fossils from other South African sites as well. His current interests focus on computer modeling and simulation of evolutionary and fossilization processes, toward an understanding of the pace and causes of human evolution in an ecological context.

He is the author of Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity (Rutgers University Press), The Riddled Chain: Chance, Coincidence, and Chaos in Human Evolution (Rutgers University Press), and coauthor of Understanding Human Evolution (Pearson).

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