Virtual earths broken in simulation

Ever wondered what happens if you take a bundle of virtual earth’s, put them together in a big computer then smash them over with a series of potential catastrophes?

Well, the whole thing doesn’t blow up instantly but what scientists Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in South Australia and Dr Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre based in Ispra in northern Italy found, was rather concerning.

Researchers have already discovered that climate change increases the risk of a domino effect that could eventually destroy all life on earth.

The theory is known as ‘co-extinctions’ and holds that an organism dies out because it depends on another doomed species.

Researchers say the end of all life is a worst case scenario but warn this ‘domino effect’ could dramatically increase the risks of climate change. Around  to 5-6 degrees of average warming globally is enough to wipe out most life on the planet, according to a recent article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

“Even the most resilient species will inevitably fall victim to the synergies among extinction drivers as extreme stresses drive ecosystems to collapse,” Dr Strona says.

Using sophisticated computer modelling they simulated 2000 ‘virtual earths’ linking animal and plant species.

Runaway global warming

They programed a series of catastrophes ranging from runaway global warming, to a series of nuclear winters and a large asteroid impact.

What they were trying to test was whether the variable tolerances to extreme global heating or cooling by different species were enough to explain overall extinction rates.

“But because all species are connected in the web of life, our paper demonstrates that even the most tolerant species ultimately succumb to extinction when the less-tolerant species on which they depend disappear.

“Failing to take into account these co-extinctions therefore underestimates the rate and magnitude of the loss of entire species from events like climate change by up to 10 times,’ says Professor Bradshaw, a former University of Otago PhD student.

He says ignoring this domino effect gives an unrealistic and exceedingly optimistic perspective on the impact of future climate change.

‘Another really important discovery was that in the case of global warming in particular, the combination of intolerance to heat combined with co-extinctions mean that 5-6 degrees of average warming globally is enough to wipe out most life on the planet”, says Dr Strona.

Professor Bradshaw further warns that their work shows how climate warming creates extinction cascades in the worst possible way, when compared to random extinctions or even from the stresses arising from nuclear winter.

The video below explains.

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