Global Biodiversity Crisis Is Worse Than We Thought, New Survey Finds

rhinoceros walks through a wildfire in a field
An Indian rhinoceros, also called the greater one-horned rhinoceros, walks through a wildfire in a field at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Morigaon district, some 45 kms from Guwahati in the Assam state on March 3, 2019. Biju Boro / AFP / Getty Images
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A new survey of 3,331 scientists studying biodiversity across 187 countries has revealed that more species are threatened with extinction than previously thought. As many as 50% of species have been threatened with extinction or driven to extinction since 1500, according to survey results.

The survey, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, was conducted to help fill in gaps of information on biodiversity around the globe. The survey received 3,331 responses from scientists focused on all major species, habitats and ecosystems on Earth.

“While considering the types of species and ecosystems they know best, experts estimated that about 30% of species have been globally threatened or driven extinct since the year 1500,” said Forest Isbell, lead author and an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. “Experts also acknowledged substantial uncertainty around their estimates, with perhaps as few as 16% or as many as 50% of species threatened or driven extinct over this time.”

While these percentages range greatly, the differences may be due to demographic and geographic differences, which the survey acknowledges.

Co-author Patricia Balvanera at the University of Mexico noted that the survey results found that women and those in the Global South tended to provide higher estimates of biodiversity loss. “Also, experts who identify as women disproportionately study the taxa that experts estimate are most threatened,” Balvanera added.

By including information on taxa that are often understudied and including responses from underrepresented experts, the survey ultimately found that global biodiversity loss from 1500 to now and its impacts could be greater than previously thought.

“Since biodiversity is highly regional in nature, the attempt of our study to bring together the opinions of regional experts from around the world is unprecedented,” said co-author Akira Mori of the University of Tokyo in Japan. “From the perspective of social and cultural diversity and inclusiveness, even if they are not necessarily complete, I believe we have presented certain suggestions for future international policy discussions.”

Additionally, the survey results shared that global biodiversity loss is likely to have harmful impacts on ecosystems and reduce nature’s contributions to humans. The respondents gave various reasons behind global biodiversity loss, including land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species, depending on the ecosystem or species.

The respondents do have hope for the future, though. With increases in conservation efforts and funding now, the experts estimated that these actions could remove threats of extinction for one in three species that would otherwise be threatened or extinct by the end of this century.

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