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Here’s What The Earth’s Mammal Population Might Look Like If Humans Never Existed

Things have changed.

Here’s What The Earth’s Mammal Population Might Look Like If Humans Never Existed
[Top Photo: Mark Bridger via Shutterstock]

When you want to go on a safari, you go to sub-Saharan Africa, the only place in the world outside of a zoo where you can see rhinos, elephants, hippos, and leopards all at once. According to a new study, this isn’t because Africa has the optimal climate and environment for these large mammals, but rather because it’s one of the only areas where human activities have not yet wiped out the majority of animals.

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Two maps from the study, conducted by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, show how diverse the world’s animal species would be if humans had never existed.

In the first map, you can see that Africa is virtually the only place in the world that still has a high diversity of large mammals.

Soren Faurby

In the second, the researchers have mapped out the natural diversity of large mammal species like bears, elephants, elk, moose, rhinoceros, tigers, and wolves. This is how habitats would look in a world without humans.

Soren Faurby

The maps visualize the variation in the number of large mammals (99 lbs or larger) that would have occurred in an approximate 60 x 60 mile grid. The numbers on the scale to the side show the number of species in the area, visualized on the map with different colors. To create the map, researchers estimated what each species’ habitat would look without modern man’s influence.

While the maps themselves aren’t much to look at–they look like crudely drawn radar maps–the information they convey is fascinating. These researchers have concluded that the extinction of large mammals during the Last Ice Age was due mostly to human expansion, rather than climate or environmental constraints, as scientists had previously thought. With this information, researchers can now analyze natural patterns in species diversity to have a better understanding of how to preserve biodiversity in specific areas.

[via Gizmodo]

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About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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