Imperial zebra resting on the grass in front of a mate grazing in the distance.

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Imperial zebra resting on the grass in front of a mate grazing in the distance.

Photo by: wellsie82

wellsie82

Species Loss is a Disaster for Wildlife and Humankind

By: Robin Fearon

Biodiversity and species loss is a grave threat, facing not only animals and plants but society too. Ecologists say that losing species directly affects human food production, water supply, building materials, and energy sources, so our interactions with and handling of ecosystems must be regulated.

March 02, 2021

An experiment led by German scientists found that food, water, and other crucial life systems rely on biodiversity to regulate plant growth and the stability of material cycles–the movement of nutrients, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur between living organisms and the environment.

The Jena Experiment confirmed that a healthy ecosystem provides for human needs, requires a lot of diverse plant species, and that any losses have severe impacts, such as flood, drought, or groundwater pollution.

This adds to a United Nations report in 2018 detailing the main threats to humans and suggesting paths to a more sustainable future. Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Robert Watson said Earth was losing species at an unsustainable rate–more than 1,000 times the natural speed of evolution.

Habitat destruction and unsustainable farming practices, such as overuse of pesticides and herbicides, are triggering species decline and extinction. “As we continue to degrade our environment, it's not just an environmental issue, it's also a development issue,” said Watson. “So, the challenge we have is how can we meet the food needs, the water needs, and the energy needs in a way that doesn't destroy biodiversity and nature.”

The economic value of America’s land-based nature contribution to society is estimated at more than $24 trillion each year, the report revealed, but 65% of these contributions are in decline, with 21% in real trouble. The National Wildlife Federation says hundreds of species are on extinction watch lists.

Starting Small

Rare pink meadow grasshopper with a rare genetic mutation called erythrism, making the grasshopper "hi-vis" and easy prey for birds, so reaching adulthood is an amazing achievement. The grasshopper sitting on a green rose leaf.

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Rare pink meadow grasshopper with a rare genetic mutation called erythrism, making the grasshopper "hi-vis" and easy prey for birds, so reaching adulthood is an amazing achievement.

Photo by: Landscapes, Seascapes, Jewellery & Action Photographer

Landscapes, Seascapes, Jewellery & Action Photographer

Rare pink meadow grasshopper with a rare genetic mutation called erythrism, making the grasshopper "hi-vis" and easy prey for birds, so reaching adulthood is an amazing achievement.

Simply focusing on one group of animals, the insects, shows a stark reality. In 2019, a scientific study suggested that half of all insects worldwide have been wiped out since 1970. More than 40% of species are facing extinction, and their disappearance would lead to a total collapse of nature.

Galapagos Land Iguana, Conolophus subcristatus, Isla Plaza, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Galapagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Photo by: Juergen Ritterbach

Juergen Ritterbach

Galapagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Insects are largely unseen, but they feed many other species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. They also pollinate many crops and fruit-bearing plants, help to recycle organic matter for healthy soil, and contribute to human medicines.

Geologically, we are living in the anthropocene period–-the epoch when mankind began to have a significant effect on the planet’s ecosystems. Studies of our recent impacts, besides insect life, include major declines in plant life and animal populations. In the past decade, the world hasn't met a single target to halt ecosystem destruction.

Getting Warmer

close-up of a bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) sitting on a branch at night.

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Bengal Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis)

Photo by: Freder

Freder

Bengal Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis)

Vertebrate species, of which humans are only one, are on the brink of extinction, according to one study. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists more than 32,000 species in total that are threatened with extinction. And the organization says that despite the growth of protected areas, national governments have simply not met their conservation commitments.

One of the most effective tools for reversing these trends is to compel the financial sector to stop treating nature’s assets as free for exploitation. Last year, more than $2.6 trillion was invested by the world’s largest banks in sectors that drive biodiversity destruction.

More on Wildlife and Sustainability

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Global sustainability reporting can be used to account for environmental damage and identify the risks of business activity, from the smallest firms to the largest corporations. Governments can do more to reverse the damage that has been done through rewilding projects and more.


Captive breeding programs can offer support for threatened species, through sperm and egg biobanking and even human fertility technologies like IVF. But the World Wildlife Fund goes further and maps out changes to human consumption habits, dietary changes, and restrictions on land conversion to reverse biodiversity decline by 2050.

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Sharks and Mermaids, oh my!

As I stood in waist-deep water, bouncing gently with each swell of the ocean, the two tourists next to me suddenly yelled “shark!” They retreated panicked toward the shore, as a kayaker nearby chuckled and shouted a quick lesson “Don’t worry, they don’t bite!”

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