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Saturday, February 4, 2023

What would the Earth be like if there were no modern humans?

A world without modern humans could be a world of giants. And it could be the same. Just with a different kind of people.

Megacities with skyscrapers, roads and bridges, fields and artificial reservoirs, pyramids and other massive monuments of antiquity – our presence on the planet is hard not to notice. But what would the world be like if we, modern people, had not appeared?

(Image credit: Daniel Eskridge/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images) - An illustration of the extinct Glyptodon.

According to the most conservative estimates, the rate of extinction today is at least 100 times higher than the norm – the level of extinction in a world without people. The last time things were this bad was during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event about 66 million years ago. That is, the very extinction during which all non-avian dinosaurs died out, and with them 80% of all animal species. In other words, human activity “hit” this planet like an asteroid, and the dust has not yet settled, and wild animals continue to die out.

Trevro Worthy, a paleontologist at Flinder University in Australia, says: “My great-great-grandfather saw flocks of thousands of parrots, my grandfather only saw flocks of hundreds, my father saw only a few, and I would be glad if I saw at least a couple in the forest.”

Obviously, without us, the Earth was much more “wild”. There would be many more large animals. For example, giant moas would probably still be running around New Zealand .

(HEINRICH HARDER (1858-1935)) - Moa hunting.  Illustration

These ostrich-like birds grew up to 3.6 m. They lived in New Zealand for millions of years, but completely disappeared within 200 years after the arrival of people about 750 years ago. Along with nine species of these birds, at least 25 other species of vertebrates disappeared. Among them are the giant haast eagles that preyed on those same moas. Humans are to blame for the disappearance of moas and Haast’s eagles, namely over-hunting and the importation of invasive species.

According to some scientists, the conservation of large species would play a key role in the “Land without people”.

Serengeti land

Soren Forby, a zoologist from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), is sure that modern humans are to blame for the disappearance of many large animal species.

A few years ago, he conducted a study in which, based on historical, modern and modeled data on the diversity and distribution of animals, he showed what the natural development and distribution of animals in the world would be like without human intervention

His analysis showed that such a world resembled the modern Serengeti National Park – a protected area in Africa that is “teeming” with life.

(Getty) — Composite (aka photoshopped) photo of Serengeti animals

According to this scenario, analogues of elephants, rhinos and lions would still live in Europe and America to this day. Instead of African lions ( Panthera le o), there would have been cave lions, slightly larger lions that lived in Europe and Siberia until 12,000 years ago. And in America, there would be extinct relatives of elephants, as well as giant bears, sloths (those probably died out due to warming) and glyptodons, relatives of armadillos the size of a car.

“In a world without humans, there would be much more diversity among large mammals. And where there are more large mammals, there are more open spaces,” adds Forby.

Elephants and other large animals usually prefer to fell a tree so that it is easier to reach for fresh leaves and fruits than to go and look for another source of food.

In general, according to his assumption, there would be less forests.

And yet, are we to blame for the extinction of these giants?

Scientists call large animals megafauna. During the last peak of the ice age, in the Pleistocene (2.6 million – 11.7 thousand years ago), these giants lived all over the world, but almost all of them died out shortly after the end of the ice age. Last year, scientists calculated that 38 genera (!) Of large animals then died out in North America.

And now scientists have been arguing for almost how long people are to blame for this extinction.

Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock)

A couple of weeks ago, we were finally cleared of the blame for the extinction of mammoths. Scientists have proven that the main reason for their extinction was warming, which led to a change in vegetation. And these woolly giants simply did not have time to adapt to the new vegetation.

Nevertheless, it is logical to assume that in the absence of people, their niche would be occupied by other species. And probably big too. But we have “captured” vast territories, limiting the opportunities for the natural development of diversity.

However, if we develop this idea further, then someone else could take our place in the system.

Were people inevitable?

As you know, modern people ( Homo sapiens ) were not always the only representatives of the genus Homo on the planet. Maybe if it were not for us, then Neanderthals would have taken our place? Or Denisovans?

Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago, and scientists are still not entirely sure what caused their extinction. But our species have interbred, so we all have bits of Neanderthal DNA in us.

Chris Stringer, professor of anthrology at the Natural History Museum in London, believes that one of the reasons for their extinction was competition for limited resources with our ancestors: they would still be alive.”

(Image credit: Chettaprin.P/Shutterstock.com) - Restored appearance of a Neanderthal male.  Natural History Museum, London

According to Stringer, the life of the Neanderthals was not at all primitive, as we used to think of it. But it was harder for them to adapt to climate change. In addition, there were relatively few of them and their genetic diversity left much to be desired. All these factors adversely affect the survival of the species.

Their problems probably began even before the arrival of modern humans, but our arrival, according to Stringer, “most likely finally tipped the scales.”

Now let’s deal with the Denisovans . We know less about Denisovans. Genetically and externally, they were closer to Neanderthals than to modern humans. We also have their genes. By the way, some of the peoples of Indonesia have the most of these genes, which relatively recently began to “mix” with the surrounding peoples.

It turns out that the Denisovans lived on a much larger territory than the Neanderthals, and they adapted to different environmental conditions. And this means that they had a better chance of surviving than the Neanderthals.

If they hadn’t died out, they might soon have turned to agriculture and followed our path.

So maybe the world would be the same without us.

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