New WWF report: drastic wildlife decline since 1970. Time to aim higher.

This week the World Wildlife Fund reported their studies on the Living Planet Index, which found that the population sizes of more than 4,000 animal species have declined by 60 % between 1970 and 2014. The Living Planet Index tracks the population abundance of thousands of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the globe, and is an indicator of the global diversity and the overall health of our planet.

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WWF 2018. Living Planet Report: Aiming Higher

The full report can be downloaded here. The main conclusion is a dramatic decrease of biodiversity that is ongoing and showing no real sign of slowing down.

(Just for clarity, these results do not mean a loss of 60 % of total animals, but depends on the relative size of each of the population.) The report does not only discuss the species diversity loss, but also provides a comprehensive overview of how the planet and human activity are connected. As the report indicates, “the main drivers of biodiversity decline continue to be the overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion – all driven by runaway human consumption.

As humans we need to understand that we are part of this natural world and nature is not just something that is ‘nice to have’, but it is essential to our survival. Very often, as we isolate ourselves in our cities or homes, it is easy to forget the importance of natural biodiversity. While we have made tremendous advances and expansions on human development, of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since AD 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both, as explained in the report.

Fortunately we are starting to see some changes in the realization of this importance in our human lives. More and more individuals and organizations incorporate sustainable concepts related to health and wellness, food supply and security. A more sustainable development that addresses the importance of biodiversity and ecosystems will be essential in future development of medicine, nutrition, and energy. As the report illustrates: “at least 70% of new small molecule drugs introduced worldwide over the past 25 years have come from, or have been inspired by, a natural source”, underscoring the importance of researching natural products in medicine.

Apart from direct loss of valuable chemicals or food sources, a decline in biodiversity also limits our opportunity to learn from nature. We sometimes seem to overlook the fact that nature has billions of years of experience on us, so why not learn from that. Increasingly, wild life is being harnessed for biomimicry, where concepts from nature are used for innovative developments in medicine, architecture and engineering, or renewable energy. Here are some examples if you’re interested in gecko feet adhesives and experimental fish cars: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2015-02-23/14-smart-inventions-inspired-by-nature-biomimicry

These global challenges are not easy to study and overcome, nevertheless the report does end on a hopeful note that we can (and should) do better than this as a human species. It will however take a concerted action of motivated and educated scientists, engineers, businesses and politicians to come up with sustainable development solutions to maintain species diversity, including our own. As humans we are intrinsically driven by a curiosity to understand and ultimately improve the world we live in, so let’s stay curious and keep studying science to help find solutions!

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