Habitat loss poses the greatest threat to species. The world's forests, swamps, plains, lakes, and other habitats continue to disappear as they are harvested for human consumption and cleared to make way for agriculture, housing, roads, pipelines and the other hallmarks of industrial development. Without a strong plan to create terrestrial and marine protected areas important ecological habitats will continue to be lost.

© National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF

Losing their homes because of the growing needs of humans
Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to the variety of life on this planet today.

It is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").

Increasing food production is a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land.

Why is it happening?

Forest loss and degradation is mostly caused by the expansion of agricultural land, intensive harvesting of timber, wood for fuel and other forest products, as well as overgrazing.

High land conversion rates

The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million ha (equivalent to 2.4% of total forests). It is estimated that in the 1990s, almost 70% of deforested areas were converted to agricultural land.

Around half of the world's original forests have disappeared, and they are still being removed at a rate 10x higher than any possible level of regrowth. As tropical forests contain at least half the Earth's species, the clearance of some 17 million hectares each year is a dramatic loss.

Coastal and marine areas

Human impact on terrestrial and marine natural resources results in marine and coastal degradation. Population growth, urbanization, industrialization and tourism are all factors.

In 1994, it was estimated that 37% of the global population lived within 60 km of the coast. Poverty, consumption and land-use patterns contribute to the degradation of marine habitats and to the destruction of the species that rely on them to survive.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia, is a network of fully protected areas within a larger ... 
© WWF / Jürgen Freund
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia, is a network of fully protected areas within a larger protected area, designed to protect all habitats in the region.
© WWF / Jürgen Freund

Protected areas are one of the most effective tools for conserving species and natural habitats. They also contribute to the livelihoods and well-being of local communities and society at large.

For example, well-planned and well-managed protected areas can help to safeguard freshwater and food supplies, reduce poverty, and reduce the impacts of natural disasters. 

Although recent government figures in Brazil show a reduction in the rate of deforestation this ... 
© WWF / Mauri Rautkari
Although recent government figures in Brazil show a reduction in the rate of deforestation this year in the Amazon, burning rainforest to create pastureland for ranching and other agricultural activities continues. Amazon, Brazil.
© WWF / Mauri Rautkari

Orangutans and other species lose habitat to palm oil plantations

Borneo orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus). © WWF
Palm oil plantations in the tropical regions of Africa, Latin America, and Asia have led the large scale destruction of important habitat  for many species. The largest growth of palm oil plantations has been in Malaysia and Indonesia where large tracts of rainforest are cleared to grow palm oil crops. Orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and many other species are increasingly isolated and their sources of food and shelter are in decline. Human-wildlife conflict also increases because without sufficient natural habitat these species come into contact with humans and are often killed or captured. 

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Did you know?

  • Only 0.6% of the world’s oceans are protected, and the vast majority of existing marine parks and reserves suffer from little or no effective management. This is despite the fact that MPAs not only help safeguard biodiversity, they can also benefit fisheries and people.

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