World Wildlife Populations have Plummeted in the Last 40 Years

Friday, October 3, 2014

The latest Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted.  The Report, which measures the world’s biological diversity, suggests that wildlife populations have more than halved in the last 40 years.

This news will alarm many, especially as the data suggests that global loss of species is much greater than previously thought.  The Report says that populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish declined by an average of 52% between 1970 and 2010.

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is a measure of the state of the world’s biological diversity based on population trends of vertebrate species from around the world.  The LPI was initially developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and since 2006 they have been working in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London to continue to build the database.  The LPI has also been adopted by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) as an indicator of progress towards its 2020 target to ‘take effective and urgent action to half the loss of biodiversity’.  

The 2014 Living Planet Report is the tenth edition of the publication and uses data from the LPI to track the changes in the wildlife populations of more than 3,000 different species.

The LPI can be divided into terrestrial, freshwater and marine indices to show how trends vary in different ecosystems.  In the latest report, it appears that freshwater population have suffered the most, with a 76% decline reported which is an average loss of almost double that of terrestrial and marine species.  The main threats to freshwater species were highlighted as habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and invasive species.  

Terrestrial and marine species were reported to have both declined by around 39% between 1970 and 2010, a trend which is showing no sign of slowing down.  

The Report shows that the biggest recorded threat to biodiversity comes from human activities, especially the combined impacts of habitat loss and degradation, driven by what WWF calls ‘unsustainable human consumption’.  This includes activities linked to agriculture, urban development and hunting.  The Report also notes that the impacts of climate change are becoming an increasing concern.   

Despite the Report’s clearly alarming data, WWF are keen to avoid despair and point to a number of positive conservation efforts that are having success in increasing local species populations, including schemes in Rwanda, Brazil and the UK.

The full Living Planet Report can be downloaded from the LPI website here

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