Friday 16 May 2008
According to The Living Planet Index, a report written by ZSL scientists and released today, the world's species are declining at a rate ‘unprecedented since the extinction of the dinosaurs’ – and it’s our fault!
The report was jointly produced by ZSL, WWF and the Global Footprint Network, with the team tracking almost 4,000 populations trends for about 1,500 species. Out today, it shows the devastating impact of humanity as species populations have plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005.
It reveals that populations of wild species have declined by 30 per cent on land, in the oceans and in freshwater ecosystems. Scientists say the current extinction rate is now up to 10,000 times faster than has been recorded in the fossil record.
ZSL scientist Jonathan Loh, editor of the report, said the severe decline was ‘completely unprecedented in terms of human history. You'd have to go back to the extinction of the dinosaurs to see a decline as rapid as this'.
'In terms of human times-scales we may be seeing things change relatively slowly, but a decline of 30 percent in the space of a single generation is unprecedented in human history.’
One species that highlights the study’s findings is the Yangtze river dolphin. ZSL scientists announced the extinction of this freshwater mammal last year, as none have been sighted in a series of recent searches. The main reasons for its decline include collisions with boats, habitat loss and pollution – factors that all link to mankind.
Dr Ben Collen, research scientist at ZSL and one of the authors of the report, said: ‘Between 1960 and 2000, the human population of the world has doubled. Yet during the same period, animal populations have declined by 30 per cent on average. It's beyond doubt that this decline has been caused by humans.’
The report names the destruction of natural habitat, the overexploitation of species, climate change, pollution, and the spread of invasive species as the five key reasons for the ongoing decline. All of these can be clearly linked back to human population growth and the consumption of natural resources.
Aside from tackling global emissions, the report recommended two ways that species decline could be combated – by avoiding the destruction of natural habitat and in halting the over-fishing of commercial fish species.
These stark figures question international governments’ pledges to make a ‘significant’ reduction in biodiversity loss by 2010; something that will no doubt overshadow the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn which begins next week. In fact, the report's authors say that global inaction has already made such a goal virtually unattainable.
Jonathon Loh added: ‘It's very damning for the governments that are party to the convention that they are not able to meet the target they set for themselves. The talk doesn't get translated into action. We are failing, and the consequences will be devastating.’