Friday, January 2, 2015

Landscape Change – the Consequences

Landscapes change – sometimes gradually, but also sometimes in fits and spurts. There are real-life consequences to this change.

Q: When the area drifting from Africa eventually fully separates will any animals become extinct? How many new animals would be expected to evolve? How long would it take for the scenery to greatly differ from how it once was?
- Veronica V

A: Your question is ambiguous, so I will take it upon myself to infer that you mean the ~6,000-kilometer-long Great Rift Valley of Africa.

That name itself is somewhat ambiguous, since it combines features from a number of separate although related rift and fault systems stretching from Jordan to Mozambique. This continental split has been forming since at least the Miocene, 22–25 million years ago, and is currently pulling apart at a rate of about 7 mm per year. At that rate of extension, a complete rupture will occur within 10 million years, and the Somalian plate will break off, forming a new sea between it and Africa not unlike the Red Sea.

As to the animals, well, if history is any predictor of the future you can expect several things:

1. VAST numbers of animal species will go extinct this century. This is due to habitat elimination, over-hunting, and climate change. You are watching this “Sixth Extinction” happen right now, as poachers decimate African Rhinos and Elephants for their horns and tusks, and Tigers in Asia for their internal organs and bones, just to satiate a bottomless appetite in Yemen and China.

2. Those that survive on the “New Madagascar” that will be the eventual Somali Island will evolve to fit their altered ecosystem. Often this means they will grow smaller – evolve to better use the limited resources of a now-limited landscape.  

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