The Amazon rainforest and coral reefs could collapse in less than 50 years, warns a new study.
Scientists say the world’s biggest ecosystems could disappear much faster than was previously believed.
Ecosystems can transform rapidly when put under stress.
Professor John Dearing, of the University of Southampton, said: “The messages here are stark.
“We need to prepare for changes in our planet’s ecosystems that are faster than we previously envisaged.”
The team reviewed data from scientific publications on the transformation of over 40 ecosystems on land and in water.
The ecosystems also varied in size, ranging from small ponds to the black sea.
They found, while it took longer for larger ecosystems to collapse, the rate of change was significantly faster than for smaller systems.
Based on their results, the Amazon forest be gone in 50 years and the Caribbean coral reefs in just 15.
Larger ecosystems are made up of compartments – or subsystems of species and habitats, which usually make them stronger.
These smaller systems start to unravel after a certain threshold is crossed.
Prof Dearing added: “These findings are yet another call for halting the current damage being imposed on our natural environments that pushes ecosystems to their limits.”
Recent forest fires in Australia and the Amazon, which destroyed nearly 20 million hectares, could be an example of how these ecosystems are struggling to cope with climate change.
The UK has some of the best marine ecosystems in the world, home to a number of rare species such as bottlenose dolphins.
These systems also bring around £700 million to the country’s economy.
But they too could collapse as they face growing pressure from overfishing, pollution and shipping.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.