This article discusses the alarms being raised by scientists over a rise in mass mortality events – when species die in their thousands. Is it all down to climate change?
There was almost something biblical about the scene of devastation that lay before Richard Kock as he stood in the wilderness of the Kazakhstan steppe. Dotted across the grassy plain, as far as the eye could see, were the corpses of thousands upon thousands of saiga antelopes. All appeared to have fallen where they were feeding.
The saiga – whose migrations form one of the great wildlife spectacles – were victims of a mass mortality event (MME), a single, catastrophic incident that wipes out vast numbers of a species in a short period of time. MMEs are among the most extreme events of nature. They affect starfish, bats, coral reefs and sardines. They can push species to the brink of extinction, or throw a spanner into the complex web of life in an ecosystem. And according to some scientists, MMEs are on the rise and likely to become more common because of climate change.