It paints a sad picture, the latest assessment of the world’s vertebrates by the IUCN. Of the almost 26,000 vertebrates on the IUCN Red List as much as a fifth face a serious risk of extinction. With an average of 52 species added to the lot each year. To reach this conclusion, 174 scientist from 38 countries combined their research in an article that appeared in Science yesterday.
The IUCN ranks animals in eight categories ranging from safe, through various degrees of threatened to extinct. The 20 percent of animals in the threatened categories includes 25 percent of all mammals, 13 percent of birds, 22 percent of reptiles, 24 percent of fish and no less than 41 per cent of amphibians.
The expansion of agriculture appears to be the most important driving force behind the loss in biodiversity. Especially in Southeast Asia where a rapid growth of palm oil and rice crop plantations and an increase in logging caused the most dramatic losses. Invasive species, either introduced by man or climate change driven, also put a heavy burden on native species.
But the news the assessment brings is not all bad. It also shows that conservation efforts indeed have a positive effect on preserving species. 64 species of mammal, bird and amphibian have improved in status thanks to successful conservations actions.
At the very least the article sends a clear signal that should be taken to heart during the two weeks of talks in the Japanese city of Nagoya, where new targets to protect plant and animal species for 2020 will be set. Delegates from nearly 200 countries are gathered there to draft a protocol to share genetic resources between countries and companies and allocate more funding to protect nature.
The United Nations says we need tougher targets to save biodiversity. Preserving the richness of species is vital to ecosystems and the economy due to the services they provide, such as clean water and pollination of crops. Furthermore, without proper action we might very well soon see the last of iconic species such as the polar bear, panda and the Tasmanian devil.
© Jorn van Dooren | www.bitsofscience.org