Planetary Health In Unprecedented Decline After 68% Of All Species Lost Since 1970

ince 1970, the world has lost more than two thirds of all mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

TheLiving Planet Report 2020 from the World Wildlife Fund has revealed that about 68% of all mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibian species disappeared between 1970 and 2016. The worst impacted populations in Latin America and the Caribbean saw a 94% decline on average, Globe Newswire reports.

“This report reminds us that we destroy the planet at our peril—because it is our home. As humanity’s footprint expands into once-wild places, we’re devastating species populations. But we’re also exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationship with nature for the benefit of species and people alike,” says WWF-US President and CEO Carter Roberts.

The earth has lost an estimated 68% of its total biodiversity since 1970.
Source: Pexels
The earth has lost an estimated 68% of its total biodiversity since 1970.

Without understanding the links between humankind and all other life on earth, it may be hard to understand what this loss means.

“Is my life in any way affected if a butterfly on the other side of the world flutters its wings, or goes extinct?” you may ask.

Yes, and more and more each day.

Mass die-offs of world bee populations and other key pollinators are leading to food shortages.
Source: Pexels
Mass die-offs of world bee populations and other key pollinators are leading to food shortages.

What does biodiversity have to do with my health?

The World Health Organization reports that “biophysical diversity of microorganisms, flora and fauna provides extensive knowledge which carry important benefits for biological, health, and pharmacological sciences. Significant medical and pharmacological discoveries are made through greater understanding of the earth’s biodiversity.”

It therefore stands to reason that a decrease in biodiversity correlates with fewer opportunities to discover treatments for diseases and other important components to life on earth.

Climate change has raised the pH of the oceans, leading to coral bleaching and eutrophication.
Source: Pexels
Climate change has raised the pH of the oceans, leading to coral bleaching and eutrophication.

What does biodiversity have to do with the health of other species?

Species diversity is in one sense a barometer for the health of our planet. The stability of keystone species, in particular, help maintain this diversity by keeping other populations in check. And when keystone species begin to disappear, the result is cascading collapse and ecosystem eutrophication.

According to Sciencing, a 1969 study by Robert Paine found that the removal of just one key predator in a system, in this case a starfish, the creatures on the next rung of the food chain, in this case mussels, would face off for the new top spot. This often results in the winner eradicating the losing species, driving species diversity down even further.

Biodiversity in the Caribbean and Latin America has suffered the greatest losses.
Source: Pexels
Biodiversity in the Caribbean and Latin America has suffered the greatest losses.

Perhaps a greater threat comes along when foreign species are introduced to a new environment they can thrive in. Invasive species, “grow and reproduce rapidly, causing major disturbances to the areas in which they are present,” maintains the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.

Many migratory birds have died off as massive industrial and agricultural operations take their habitats,
Source: Pexels
Many migratory birds have died off as massive industrial and agricultural operations take their habitats,

The term invasive species is commonly applied to plants like kudzu, baby’s breath and garlic mustard, but one of the most prevalent examples is a species many humans invite and even care for in their own homes: the domestic house cat.

As Nature reports, “Free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality.”

Biodiversity is more than just a number. It's responsible for all life on earth.
Source: Pexels
Biodiversity is more than just a number. It’s responsible for the health of all life on earth.

What are the main threats to biodiversity?

Pollution, habitat destruction and humankind’s insatiable habits of consumption are major threats to biodiversity, but they pale in comparison to the climate crisis, which each of those threats has contributed to in no small part.

“Climate is an integral part of ecosystem functioning and human health is impacted directly and indirectly by results of climatic conditions upon terrestrial and marine ecosystems,” The Who reports. “Marine biodiversity is affected by ocean acidification related to levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Terrestrial biodiversity is influenced by climate variability, such as extreme weather events (ie drought, flooding) that directly influence ecosystem health and the productivity and availability of ecosystem goods and services for human use. Longer term changes in climate affect the viability and health of ecosystems, influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals, and even human settlements.”

In this context, when we think about more than two thirds of our planet’s biodiversity vanishing in just a few decades, the logical conclusion is frightening.

What does biodiversity mean to this planet? Everything.

Learn more in the video below.

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.

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