20% of World's Vertebrates Threatened With Extinction - But It'd Be Much Worse Without Conservation Efforts


photo: Dmitry Krendelev/Creative Commons

If that headline seems familiar, it's because it is: A new study, the most comprehensive of its kind, published in Science confirms that 20% of the world's vertebrate species are threatened with extinction. Which is undoubtedly bad news. However the research revealed some good news: Without the work already done on conservation, the situation would be much worse.Based on data for the 25,000 species on the IUCN Red List, researchers found that on average 50 species move closer to extinction every year--mostly the result of human activity reducing habitat, poaching, and invasive species killing them off.

The greatest recent losses have occurred in Southeast Asia, where (despite the incessant bizarro-world accounts of forest industry front groups like World Growth to the contrary) conversion of land to palm oil plantations, logging and hunting as unsustainable levels and conversion of land to other agricultural uses continues at ecologically (and ultimately, economically) devastating speeds.

All of which has led renowned ecologist E.O. Wilson to say, "the backbone of biodiversity is being eroded." (Science Daily)

20% Worse Biodiversity Loss Without Conservation Efforts
But enough gloom. Though there are a growing number of conservationists that say existing efforts to stop the massive species loss we're currently causing are not working, this study shows that sort of language should be qualified with a 'well enough' at the end. Existing conservation efforts are not working, well enough.

In fact, existing efforts are having a positive impact around the globe. This research shows that if past conservation action had not taken place the status of biodiversity would have declined 20% more.

Examples of successful conservation efforts highlighted by the report include: 64 mammal, bird and amphibian species whose status has improved--three of which were extinct in the wild and successfully reintroduced into the wild (the California Condor, the Black-footed Ferret, and Przewalski's Horse in Mongolia). The effect of the international ban on commercial whaling has also seen definite results, with the Humpback Whale moving from a status of vulnerable to least concern.

Piecemeal Conservation Approaches Won't Work
As for how to make these existing efforts more effective, report co-author Professor Thomas Lacher Jr., from Texas A&M; University, says a more comprehensive approach is needed, "One that includes not only protected areas but also better strategies to work with rural communities and traditional people to conserve biodiversity in places where people use the land for their support. We cannot afford piecemeal approaches."

California condor photo: Jim Bahn/Creative Commons
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Tags: Conservation | Ecology | Endangered Species