84% collapse in Freshwater species populations since 1970 | WWF
84% collapse in Freshwater species populations since 1970

Posted on 10 September 2020

Global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century - with freshwater species suffering by far the worst losses.
The Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows that there has been a 68 per cent average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016.

The LPI, which tracked almost 21,000 populations of more than 4,000 vertebrate species also shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 per cent - the starkest average population decline in any biome, equivalent to 4 per cent per year since 1970. One example is the spawning population of the Chinese sturgeon in China’s Yangtze river, which declined by 97 per cent between 1982 and 2015 due to the damming of the waterway.

“The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

“We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure. From the fish in our oceans and rivers to bees which play a crucial role in our agricultural production, the decline of wildlife affects directly nutrition, food security and the livelihoods of billions of people.”

He added: “In the midst of a global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to take unprecedented and coordinated global action to halt and start to reverse the loss of biodiversity and wildlife populations across the globe by the end of the decade, and protect our future health and livelihoods. Our own survival increasingly depends on it.”

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the LPI, which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. It shows that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations on land observed in the LPI is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food.

“The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity,” said Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL’s Director of Conservation. “An average decline of 68% in the past 50 years is catastrophic, and clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world. If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we all depend. But we also know that conservation works and species can be brought back from the brink. With commitment, investment and expertise, these trends can be reversed.”

The LPR 2020 also includes pioneering modelling which shows that without further efforts to counteract habitat loss and degradation, global biodiversity will continue to decline. Based on a paper, ‘Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy,’ co-authored by WWF and more than 40 NGOs and academic institutions and published today in Nature, the modelling makes clear that stabilizing and reversing the loss of nature caused by humans’ destruction of natural habitats will only be possible if bolder, more ambitious conservation efforts are embraced and transformational changes made to the way we produce and consume food. Changes needed include making food production and trade more efficient and ecologically sustainable, reducing waste, and favouring healthier and more environmentally-friendly diets.   

The research shows that implementing these measures together rather than in isolation will allow the world to more rapidly alleviate pressures on wildlife habitats, thereby reversing biodiversity trends from habitat loss decades earlier than strategies that allow habitat losses and then attempt to reverse them later on.The modelling also indicates that if the world carries on with “business as usual”, rates of biodiversity loss seen since 1970 will continue over the coming years.

“These losses would at best take decades to reverse, and further irreversible biodiversity losses are likely, putting at risk the myriad ecosystem services that people depend on,” said David Leclère, lead author of the paper and Research Scholar at the International Institute of Applied System Analysis.

“With leaders gathering virtually for the UN General Assembly in a few days’ time, this research can help us secure a New Deal for Nature and People which will be key to the long-term survival of wildlife, plant and insect populations and the whole of nature, including humankind.  A New Deal has never been needed more.”
 
Amazon river dolphin / boto (Inia geoffrensis) underwater with light above, Rio Negro, Amazonia, Brazil, July
© naturepl.com / Kevin Schafer / WWF

Related links

Freshwater Living Planet Index showing 84% decline since 1970
© WWF ZSL
Deep Dive into Freshwater: part of the Living Planet Report 2020
© WWF ZSL
Gharials on the sand banks in India
© Areeb Hashmi/WWF-India