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Global risks, insect extinctions, baby shark trouble: 3 stories you may have missed

© Conservation International photo by Mark V. Erdmann

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Epidemics lead world's biggest short-term risks: World Economic Forum 

Climate change and pandemics pose extreme threats to the global economy, according to a new report.

The story: The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Risks Report found that infectious diseases, the impacts of climate change and job losses rank among the top threats  facing the global economy, reported Reuters. Featuring input from more than 650 global experts and decision-makers, the report concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated the global job market, will continue to drive business closures over the next two years. Environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss are also expected to cause extreme economic damage unless countries and businesses drastically decrease their greenhouse gas emissions and invest in natural climate solutions, according to the report’s authors. 

The big picture: “The results of the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risk Report prove that leaders increasingly recognize that our health is inextricably linked to the health of the natural world,” Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan said in a recent statement. “The toughest challenges we face are interconnected. So are their solutions. Governments, NGOs and corporate leaders all have a role to play in creating a healthier relationship with nature.” A recent study co-authored by Conservation International experts found that countries can decrease the risk of future pandemics — at a fraction of the cost it has taken to respond to the coronavirus — by investing in strategies that stop deforestation, limit the global wildlife trade and increase early virus detection. 

Read more here

Experts project a bleak future for insects, unless humanity can curb climate change. 

The story: A recent report found that some areas of the world could lose up to one-third of their insect populations over the next 20 years, reported Christine Peterson for National Geographic. From butterflies to bumblebees, insects face a variety of threats, including deforestation, climate change, pollution and invasive species. Critical to the global food system, insects support crop growth by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and helping to maintain soil fertility. Therefore, their decline would have catastrophic consequences for the planet, scientists say

The big picture: “Insects, like every bit of the natural world, are declining,” Matthew Forister, an insect ecologist and co-author on the report, told National Geographic. “But it’s clear insects have a possibility to rebound. It’s grim, but it’s not too late.” To prevent insect extinctions, experts say that governments and businesses must drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change, one of the most pressing threats to many insects that require certain temperatures and humidity levels to survive. On an individual level, stemming the use of pesticides and herbicides on household lawns could also help save insect populations, research shows.

Read more here.

The epaulette shark — or “walking shark” — has long captivated scientists and divers for its preferred mode of underwater travel; now it could be at risk due to climate change.

The story: According to a new study, warming ocean temperatures could cause baby walking sharks to emerge from their eggs earlier, which could affect their health, reported Graham Readfearn for The Guardian. Known for walking along the ocean floor on its pectoral and pelvic fins, this shark species typically spends around 125 days in egg cases as embryos, growing and maturing before they emerge. In a recent experiment, scientists monitored the development of walking shark babies in their egg cases under two different temperatures and discovered that warmer temperatures caused the sharks to eat through their egg sacs faster. In some cases, the baby sharks in warmer conditions emerged up to 25 days sooner than they were supposed to, which weakened their overall fitness. 

The big picture: “Sharks are important as predators because they take out the weak and injured and keep the integrity of the population strong,” Jodie Rummer, a co-author on the study, told The Guardian. “Healthy coral reefs need healthy predators.” If predator species such as walking sharks begin to emerge from their egg cases earlier and weaker as ocean temperatures warm, they will become less efficient hunters, which could upset the balance of an entire ecosystem, experts say

Read more here

News spotlight

According to a recent report, public trust in government leadership and the media is plummeting, while corporate CEOs are seen as potential societal leaders — particularly on issues such as climate change and pandemic prevention.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A juvenile walking shark, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea (© Conservation International/Mark Erdmann)

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