Vertebrate Wildlife Species Have Declined By Half Over Last 40 Years

Wayne Dilger CC BY ND 2.0
The 2014 Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Fund has described the loss of wildlife as much worse than predicted two years ago. In 2012, they predicted that wildlife had declined by about 30 percent between 1970 and 2010, though new numbers suggest that wildlife populations have actually been cut by about 52 percent. The difference in reported loss is due to a new method for collecting the numbers.
 
The recent report analyzed 10,000 representative populations of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, discovering how they've been faring over the last 40 years. Sadly, they do not appear to be doing very well. The report attributes human activity, including poaching, over-hunting, and habitat destruction as the largest burden upon wildlife.
 
Humans, like all animals, utilize food and water from the environment in order to survive. The problem is in how these resources are acquired, as they are being exhausted much faster than they can bounce back. Deforestation is occurring more quickly than trees can return to full growth. Not only does this contribute to a warming climate by reducing the planet's capability to fix atmospheric carbon, but it also destroys the habitats of many species.
 
The decline is not affecting all species equally. According to the report, tropical regions have been hit the hardest. Species that live in freshwater have been reduced by an astonishing 76 percent, while about 94 percent of the historic range of elephants has been eliminated. Tigers that were once 100,000 strong at the turn of the 20th century, have been reduced to only 3,000 worldwide; most of which are in captivity. Species have been declining even within protected areas due to poaching and illegal deforestation.
 
The report claims that humans would need 1.5 Earths in order to keep up with the amount of resources being utilized. Though astronomers have been making some great progress with studying exoplanets, they haven't found any replacements for us. Even if they had, there would be no way to access those resources. There is no backup plan for wasting resources in the manner we are. We humans need to change our rate of consumption, as our current actions are simply not sustainable.
 
In addition to over-hunting and habitat destruction, climate change is particularly threatening. Changing temperatures alter migration times, routes, and destinations. When animals have to migrate to a new location, they have to compete with existing species for resources. Ocean acidification and increasing temperatures threaten fish populations that can only tolerate a specific spectrum of temperatures and water chemistry.
 
Though the numbers and outlook within the report are fairly dismal, it does not have to be that way. There is still enough time to change consumption habits and develop a more concerted effort in protecting existing wildlife. Not only would this preserve a desirable level of biodiversity on Earth, but it would also guarantee that the natural resources on which humanity depends will be there in the future. 
 
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