Which species will inherit the Earth?

Life is likely to continue on Earth after humans have gone, with invasive species such as feral cats and cane toads set to have the upper hand.

This is the view of Professor David Watson, an ecological researcher from Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society. He presented his findings this week in Brisbane at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of Australia.

‘Life will persist. We couldn’t extinguish life on planet Earth if we tried. Most life forms of the past are still around today. Very few plant or animal lineages have disappeared,’ said Prof. Watson.

‘In the long term, domesticated and invasive species are most likely to persist.’

Prof. Watson believes that we need to proceed carefully when trying to destroy species, even invasive ones. ‘We need to be careful about genetically engineering organisms to destroy them.’

‘The question is what can we do to maximise life on Earth after we're gone? We need to play favourites. My advice to scientists is choose a lineage and a place that you care about and prioritise your actions to maximise the likelihood that that it will outlive us.’

‘Conservation science is best-placed to explore the legacy of humanity’s ultimate ecological footprint. We will inevitably go extinct. However, we have given hardly any consideration to what life on Earth might be like following the human-driven mass extinction.

Projections for the time that humans have left on planet Earth range from 5,000 years to 4-5 million years. 

Prof. Watson is collaborating in research in this field with Dr Maggie Watson, also from Charles Sturt University.