Wildlife populations down 69% in 50 years, says WWF

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Global populations of wild mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have declined by more than two-thirds on average since 1970, according to a grim new report on biodiversity loss.

The Living Planet report, published every two years since 1998 by the World Wide Fund for Nature, examines the status of 32,000 populations of more than 5,000 species around the world by measuring the growth or decline of their populations. “Drops in abundance are early warning indicators of overall ecosystem health, and severe drops like this tell us that nature is unraveling,” says the report, which was produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London.

The report is based on WWF’s Living Planet Index of wild species.

This year, researchers added 838 new species to the index, mostly from Latin America and Africa, regions that were underrepresented in the past.

To make the index, an animal species must have been well monitored since at least 1970.

However, more information has only revealed in more detail the vast destruction of animal life – especially in the rainforests, which contain a disproportionate variety of the world’s plants and animals. Populations monitored in Latin America and the Caribbean have shown an average decline of 94% since 1970. Over the same period, those in Africa have declined by 66%, while those in the Asia-Pacific region have declined by 55%.

Other regions have seen smaller declines: in North America, monitored populations have fallen by 20%, and in Europe and Central Asia by a more modest 18%.

Some of the most dramatic declines have not occurred on any continent, but in oceans and waterways. The WWF has found an 83% decline in the abundance of species that depend on freshwater. Shark and ray populations have plummeted 71% over the past half-century due to an 18-fold increase in human fishing pressure.

The destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats so that land can be cultivated or developed remains the most serious threat to terrestrial biodiversity. However, the report’s authors see a new existential threat on the horizon. “Climate change is likely to become the main cause of biodiversity loss in the decades to come,” they write. Rising temperatures are already linked to the loss of more than 1,000 plant and animal species, according to the report.

Eight years ago in Australia, a single hot day killed more than 45,000 “flying fox” bats. In 2016, the Bramble Cay melomys, a rodent that lived on an island between Australia and Papua New Guinea, was declared extinct after rising seas submerged its food sources and nesting sites. .

“Science is really, really helping us deal with biodiversity loss and climate change as a unique crisis,” WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw said in an interview.

Much of what affects plants and animals, such as the loss of rainforests, also hinders the planet’s ability to extract greenhouse gases from the air, she said. But “a really well-managed ecosystem can be an incredible carbon sink,” while providing habitat and benefits to humans like clean air and water.

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