By uprooting carbon trapped in soil, wild pigs are releasing around 4.9million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually across the globe, theequivalent of 1.1 million cars.
An international team led by researchers from The University of Queensland andThe University of Canterbury have used predictive population models, coupledwith advanced mapping techniques to pinpoint the climate damage wild pigs arecausing across five continents.
UQ’s Dr Christopher O’Bryan said the globe’s ever-expanding population offeral pigs could be a significant threat to the climate.
“Wild pigs are just like tractors ploughing through fields, turning over soilto find food,” Dr O’Bryan said.
“When soils are disturbed from humans ploughing a field or, in this case, fromwild animals uprooting, carbon is released into the atmosphere.
“Since soil contains nearly three times as much carbon than in the atmosphere,even a small fraction of carbon emitted from soil has the potential toaccelerate climate change.
“Our models show a wide range of outcomes, but they indicate that wild pigsare most likely currently uprooting an area of around 36,000 to 124,000 squarekilometres, in environments where they’re not native.
“This is an enormous amount of land, and this not only affects soil health andcarbon emissions, but it also threatens biodiversity and food security thatare crucial for sustainable development.”
Using existing models on wild pig numbers and locations, the team simulated10,000 maps of potential global wild pig density.
They then modelled the amount of soil area disturbed from a long-term study ofwild pig damage across a range of climatic conditions, vegetation types andelevations spanning lowland grasslands to sub-alpine woodlands.
The researchers then simulated the global carbon emissions from wild pig soildamage based on previous research in the Americas, Europe, and China.
University of Canterbury PhD candidate Nicholas Patton said the research wouldhave ramifications for curbing the effects of climate change into the future.
“Invasive species are a human caused problem, so we need to acknowledge andtake responsibility for their environmental and ecological implications,” MrPatton said.
“If invasive pigs are allowed to expand into areas with abundant soil carbon,there may be an even greater risk of greenhouse gas emissions in the future.
“Because wild pigs are prolific and cause widespread damage, they’re bothcostly and challenging to manage.
“Wild pig control will definitely require cooperation and collaboration acrossmultiple jurisdictions, and our work is but one piece of the puzzle, helpingmanagers better understand their impacts.
“It’s clear that more work still needs to be done, but in the interim, weshould continue to protect and monitor ecosystems and their soil which aresusceptible to invasive species via loss of carbon.”
The research has been published in Global Change Biology (DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15769).
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