On October 30, 2018, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released its latest report on the current state and trends of global vertebrate biodiversity, entitled “Living Planet Report 2018”, declaring that global wildlife populations declined, on average, by 60% between 1970 and 2014.
The Living Planet Report was published every two years. In 2016, WWF reported a 58% decline in population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles between 1970 and 2012. Thus, it seems that wildlife populations are declining at a rate of 1% per year in recent years. It can be projected that we would witness a two-thirds (66%) decline in these populations from 1970 to 2020, and a three-fourths (75%) decline by 2030, if there are no effective interventions.
The Living Planet Report 2018 indicates that the loss with freshwater species – living in lakes, rivers and wetlands – hit hardest with an 83% decline in population size since 1970. However, the percentages of loss in population sizes for other four categories of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, during the study period are not presented.
Instead, the percentages of loss of all five categories of vertebrates are presented by realms. According to the Living Planet Report 2018, declines in vertebrate populations were especially pronounced in the three tropical realms, including Neotropical, Afrotropical and Indo-Pacific realms. The most dramatic decline in species population was observed in the Neotropical realm, covering South and Central America, and the Caribbean, with an 89% loss compared to 1970. Nearctic and Palearctic populations fared slightly better with declines of 23% and 31%, respectively.
The Living Planet Report 2018 presents five major threats to wildlife populations:
- Habitat loss and degradation
- Species overexploitation
- Invasive species and disease
- Climate change
According to the Report, the top threats to animal populations are linked to human activities and overexploitation of wildlife, which are driven by ever-rising food production and increased demand for land, water and energy. With the growth of human population and industrialization, human activities are destroying nature and wiping out animal populations at an astonishing rate, threatening our human life and well-being.
In the Living Planet Report, the data used to track the decline of wildlife populations were gathered from peer-reviewed studies. Although the methodology may be criticized, the WWF report is so far the most comprehensive overview of the state of world’s wildlife, since the data cover more than 16,700 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species around the world. The falls in each species are considered.
The average rate of decline in the total wildlife population may be interpreted cautiously. However, it is an undeniable truth that many species are dwindling at an alarming rate. Numerous studies indicates that the world is experiencing a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years. It is not only a catastrophe to wildlife populations, but also a calamity to our global world.
The Living Planet Report 2018 indicates that the window for action is closing rapidly. As said by Dr. Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF, our planet is at a crossroads and we have the opportunity to decide the path ahead. It is urgently needed for the global community to rethink and redefine how we value, protect and restore wildlife populations and bio-ecosystems.