‘Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis’
About 75 percent of the world’s threatened species are at risk because of human impacts to their environment and unsustainable harvesting, according to a new study in the journal Nature.
“Addressing these old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis” said lead author Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland, “This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda.”
Scientists from the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature studied 8,688 species on the IUCN Red List. They found that 72 percent of species are imperiled by unsustainable harvesting. The production of food, fodder, fiber and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees imperils another 62 percent. By comparison, 19 percent are considered threatened by climate change.
More than 5,000 species are threatened by agriculture along, while illegal hunting is decimating populations of animals like rhinoceros and elephants, western gorilla and Chinese pangolin. Other threats are affecting substantially fewer species, for example hooded seals being threatened by climate change. Perhaps surprisingly, climate change was ranked 7th among the 11 threats studied.
The report comes in advance of the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, September 1-10. It urges delegates — and society in general — to focus on proposing and funding actions that deal with the biggest current threats to biodiversity.
“History has taught us that minimizing impacts from overharvesting and agriculture requires a variety of conservation actions but these can be achieved.,” said Said Dr. James Watson, a co-author of the study from the WCS and the University of Queensland.
Actions such as well managed protected areas, enforcement of hunting regulations, and managing agricultural systems in ways that allow threatened species to persist within them, all have a major role to play in reducing the biodiversity crisis. These activities need to be well funded and prioritized in areas that will reduce threat.”
The threat of climate change is expected to increase in coming decades, the study found.
“Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis, but climate change could become an increasingly dominant threat for species in the coming decades,” said Said co-author Dr. Thomas Brooks of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Thankfully, those actions that best reduce current threats such as unsustainable use, habitat destruction, and invasive species now are often a sensible first-step in responding to the challenges of rapid climate change.”