Climate change. Illegal hunting. Habitat destruction. It’s no shocker that global biodiversity is plummeting. Now, the new “Living Planet Index” from the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society London presents an attractively designed but immensely depressing interactive infographic depicting the rate of change of 2,500 species populations from 1970 to 2008. Spoiler alert: most of those species declined.
On the whole, the planet lost 28 percent of its animal populations. That’s an average loss of 1.25 percent per year. However, breaking things down between temperate and tropical ecosystems reveals a surprising trend. Temperate ecosystems—those found in North America, Europe and parts of Eurasia—increased their populations of freshwater, marine and terrestrial animals by 31 percent. Any gains in the temperate department were offset by the tropics, however, the animal populations of which dropped a whopping 61 percent during the same period. And don’t start celebrating yet, North America and Europe. The report warns “recent average population increases do not necessarily mean that temperate ecosystems are in better state than tropical ecosystems.”
Jim Leape, Director General for the World Wildlife Fund, spells out the problem:
We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. We are using 50 percent more resources than the Earth can provide, and unless we change course, that number will grow very fast—by 2030, even two planets will not be enough.
Following right on the heels of the Living Planet Index updates, today the International Union for Conservation of Nature added more than 1,900 animals and plants to its Red List of Threatened Species.
Scientific American’s John R. Platt gives a breakdown of the new additions (and extinctions) of the 63,837 species now included on the Red List:
Extinct = 801
Extinct in the Wild = 63
Critically Endangered = 3,947
Endangered = 5,766
Vulnerable = 10,104
Near Threatened = 4,467
Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent* = 255
Least Concern = 27,937
*category now phased out
Although the implications are frightening, it’s better for a species or population to be classified on the Red List or included in the Living Planet Index than to be data deficient, meaning there’s not enough info available to even begin to assess the threats to their survival. Identifying the problem is a first step for designing a solution.
As Leape insists:
We do have a choice. We can create a prosperous future that provides food, water and energy for the 9 or perhaps 10 billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050.
More from Smithsonian.com: Newly discovered lizards already endangered, E.O. Wilson on the “social conquest of the Earth,” and the Smithsonian’s sustainability efforts.