A new study from the University of Queensland reveals the enormous climate impact of wild pigs. The experts report that by digging around in the soil to find food, wild pigs are releasing 4.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
According to the researchers, the massive amount of CO2 emissions related to pigs worldwide is the equivalent of emissions from 1.1 million cars.
In collaboration with experts at the University of Canterbury, the researchers used predictive population models and advanced mapping techniques to pinpoint the climate damage caused by wild pigs across five continents.
Dr. Christopher O’Bryan said the globe’s ever-expanding population of feral pigs could be a significant threat to the climate.
“Wild pigs are just like tractors ploughing through fields, turning over soil to find food. When soils are disturbed from humans ploughing a field or, in this case, from wild animals uprooting, carbon is released into the atmosphere,” explained Dr. O’Bryan.
“Since soil contains nearly three times as much carbon than in the atmosphere, even a small fraction of carbon emitted from soil has the potential to accelerate climate change.”
“Our models show a wide range of outcomes, but they indicate that wild pigs are most likely currently uprooting an area of around 36,000 to 124,000 square kilometres, in environments where they’re not native.”
“This is an enormous amount of land, and this not only affects soil health and carbon emissions, but it also threatens biodiversity and food security that are crucial for sustainable development.”
Based on the number and locations of wild pigs, the team simulated 10,000 maps to represent their density on a global scale. The experts calculated the amount of CO2 emissions associated with soil damage by wild pigs based on previous research conducted in China, Europe, and America.
Study co-author Nicholas Patton said the research may have help to curb the effects of climate change going forward.
“Invasive species are a human-caused problem, so we need to acknowledge and take responsibility for their environmental and ecological implications,” said Patton.
“If invasive pigs are allowed to expand into areas with abundant soil carbon, there may be an even greater risk of greenhouse gas emissions in the future. Because wild pigs are prolific and cause widespread damage, they’re both costly and challenging to manage.”
“Wild pig control will definitely require cooperation and collaboration across multiple jurisdictions, and our work is but one piece of the puzzle, helping managers better understand their impacts.”
“It’s clear that more work still needs to be done, but in the interim, we should continue to protect and monitor ecosystems and their soil which are susceptible to invasive species via loss of carbon.”
The study is published in the journal Global Change Biology.