More than 1 in 4 animals have disappeared in the past 35 years, according to a report published Thursday by the World Wildlife Fund conservation group.
The massive loss of biodiviersity is caused by humans, say the authors of 2010 & Beyond: Rising to the Biodiversity Challenge (PDF), primarily through habitat loss, overfishing and overhunting, the introduction of invasive species, and pollution. According to the report, climate change, while not as significant as the other causes, has "the potential to become the greatest threat to biodiversity over the course of the next few decades."
The WWF's Living Planet Index, developed in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) tracks some 4,000 populations of 241 fish, 83 amphibian, 40 reptile, 811 bird, and 302 mammal species. The index showed that, between 1970 and 2005, terrestrial species fell by 25 percent, marine by 28 percent, and freshwater by 29 percent. Populations of marine bird species increased from the 1970s to the mid-90s, but have plummeted 30 percent since then.
A ZSL press release said that the current extinction rate is 10,000 times faster than has been tracked 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."
The report comes ahead of next week's meeting in Bonn, Germany, of the 189 member states of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity, a body established in 1992 with the aim of stemming biodiversity loss. In 2002, member states pledged a "significant reduction" of species loss by 2010. Reuters reports that governments are expected to announce that they are unlikely to meet that target.
“This is not rocket science. The reason governments are failing to meet their biodiversity targets is because they haven’t provided adequate financial and technical resources. They have also failed to develop economic incentives and other measures to preserve biodiversity. In particular environment ministries must work for the active support and involvement of ministers with a mutual interest in saving biodiversity, especially those responsible for development, finance, agriculture, fisheries and climate."