Story at a glance
- The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report reveals a sharp decline in animal populations worldwide, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- This loss in biodiversity will harm human population as well.
A new report published by the World Wildlife Fund reveals a devastating statistic: The population of the world’s animals has fallen by 68 percent since 1970, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.
Outlined in the organization’s biannual Living Planet Report, researchers showcase indexes of animal population decline across all continents. Data show that the regions experiencing the highest rates of decline include Latin American, the Caribbean and Africa.
Several causes can be attributed to the decline in species, with two of the leading explanations being the overexploitation of species, as well as the deforestation of a diverse group of ecosystems, such as savannas, wetlands and forests. The report also highlights pollution and climate change as other factors. Notably, climate change is not one of the leading causes in loss of biodiversity currently, but is anticipated to become one of the leading drivers in the future.
The report posits that depleting abundance in wildlife is not just threatening to the flora and fauna but to humans as well. Scientists assert that a loss of animal life will impact critical resources like medicine, energy and water quality.
“The loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue but a development, economic, global security, ethical and moral one,” the authors wrote. “It is also a self-preservation issue. Biodiversity plays a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials; and is key to the regulation of our climate, water quality, pollution, pollination services, flood control and storm surges.”
The species and ecosystems most harmed are freshwater environments and species. Since 1700, scientists estimate that 90 percent of global wetlands have been lost due to human activity. Freshwater amphibians, reptiles, and fish are among the species seeing the highest declines.
Insect species have also faced declines in population density, primarily seen in Western Europe and North America, with species like bumblebees — crucial pollinators that multiply plant life — facing sizable population losses.
In total, approximately 8.8 percent of the global insect population has declined on average per decade since 1925.
Some of the solutions posited to help mitigate the cataclysmic loss of species are increases in conservation efforts. Sustainable production and consumption initiatives, however, such as reducing food waste, sustainable agricultural practices and limiting animal-based foods, are also recommended.
Conservation efforts in the U.S. have been increasingly embattled. In early September, President Trump announced that he aims to roll back endangered protections for gray wolves, seeking to alter the designation by the end of the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also reintroduced humanity’s relationship with nature into mainstream discussion. The coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year most likely from a wet market. Since then, the United Nations has warned that unchecked human activity, destruction of natural habitats and increased demand for meat will lead to more zoonotic diseases. Additionally, many scientists and environmentalists are calling for the closure of such shopping hubs, which tend to be unhygienic and expose humans to unfamiliar pathogens.
“Humanity’s influence on the decline of nature is so great that scientists believe we are entering a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene,” the report writes. “The vast majority of indicators show net declines over recent decades.”