Wildlife populations down nearly 60 percent, says WWF

By Jennifer Becar

Preserving biodiversity is one of the management objectives of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area in Malaysia. © Emma Doel

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released their 10th edition of The Living Planet Report, a document that quantifies trends in global wildlife populations and other aspects of the environment. The report, which relies on data from the Zoological Society of London and other partners, revealed some concerning trends.

This year’s report documented a 58 percent decline in wildlife population abundance between 1970 and 2012. The report predicts that overall population decline could increase to nearly 70 percent within the next five years. Trends were established based on the report’s Living Planet Index, which provides an index of biodiversity by gathering global vertebrate population data and documenting changes in the abundance of those populations over time.

The report also identified trends within specific subsets of the global wildlife population. The greatest decline in population abundance was seen in freshwater species of fish and wildlife, which has declined 81 percent. Habitat loss and degradation are largely to blame, but disease (such as chytridiomycosis in amphibians) and overexploitation (especially of fisheries) have also played a role in population declines.

Habitat loss and overexploitation are the greatest threats to populations of terrestrial wildlife, which have decreased 38 percent. The data for this group was the most comprehensive – the Living Planet Index considered population monitoring data for over 4,600 populations of over 1,600 species to determine this trend. However, despite the enormity of this group, terrestrial wildlife showed a less dramatic decline in population abundance than some other groups. The report credits this to protected areas that cover over 15 percent of the earth’s surface, providing refuge for a variety of terrestrial wildlife.

While the Living Planet Index does not analyze data on invertebrates, the Living Planet Report included data collected by the European Environmental Agency and other sources, which suggest that grassland butterfly populations have declined by 33 percent.

In addition to documenting wildlife population declines, the report also quantifies increasing trends in atmospheric CO2, tropical forest loss, human population, and other factors influencing the global environment.

While the report’s findings show concerning trends in wildlife populations and other environmental factors, its conclusion is optimistic: by understanding negative environmental trends, and the way anthropogenic actions are influencing those trends, we can take efforts to conserve wildlife and the environment for future generations.

Read more from WWF, and read TWS’ standing position on Conserving Biological Diversity.

Becar_Headshot Jennifer Becar is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

Read more of Jennifer's articles.