London: Human-induced activities may be destabilising desert ecosystems across the world, a new study has claimed.
Researchers from the Argentinian Institute of Arid Lands Research analysed the human impact on dryland ecosystems and found it was "drastically changing" mammal communities.
Scientists believe that activities such as overgrazing livestock are behind increasing local extinctions and a reduction in desert diversity, the BBC Nature reported.
"We report for the first time that in drylands, the effect of human-induced disturbances on mammal functional diversity is negative," lead author Maria Veronica Chillo, said.
The review brought together evidence from 25 studies that evaluated the effect of human-caused disturbances on mammals in arid and semi-arid lands.
A total of 110 species were included in the analysis, spanning a range of animals.
Poaching, logging, grazing, fires and introduction of invasive species were some of the ways that humans were found to have damaged mammal communities.
Although deserts and arid lands may seem to be barren places, they often support complex and fragile ecosystems in which mammals play a key role.
"Life in a desert can be a precarious existence for many mammals. They are constantly exposed to extreme and unpredictable environmental conditions and will be negatively impacted by anything that wipes out the resources they rely on," Chillo said.
The team found that "old fire" from at least a year ago seemed to have a more detrimental effect than "recent fire".
Recent fires simply wipe out plants, whereas new types of vegetation colonise areas scorched by fire that happened earlier. These new plants can be more damaging to desert mammals than no plants at all.
The team also found that moderate grazing, while it did have a small impact on mammal diversity, had a much more limited effect.
"The fact that livestock production (one of the main human activities in arid lands) does not represent the most aggressive human activity to mammal functional diversity opens new avenues of research," researchers said.
The study was published in the Journal of Arid Environments.