Why protect species

The alarm has been raised repeatedly about the decline in biodiversity across the planet.

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By allowing this decline to continue, we erode the very foundations of our traditions, economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and even the existence of life worldwide.

Why Are Species Important?

The millions of species on land, in freshwater and in the ocean have evolved over millennia and form the web of life that sustains the planet. Species and their populations are the building blocks of ecosystems, individually and collectively securing the conditions for life. They provide food, medicine and raw materials. They are the basis of soil formation, decomposition, water filtration and flow, pollination, pest control and climate regulation. They are the primary source of income and resources for hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Species are an essential part of the history, culture, tradition and folklore of every culture on Earth and their aesthetic values and spiritual roles provide comfort and inspiration as well as recreation.

Image credit: Fundaeco
A frog in Guatelama's tropics

The Species Emergency

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ reveals that a quarter of all species face high risk of extinction. Human activity has severely altered more than 75% of the Earth’s land and freshwater areas, and 66% of the oceans. Climate change and political instability are exacerbating this crisis at all levels.

Species loss at current rates will eliminate the vital ecological, economic and cultural roles that they fulfil. The crisis goes beyond species loss; human pressures mean that a vast array of species are experiencing dramatic population declines (often irreversible) to a level that affects their future and our resource base. It is beyond question that the current way of life is unsustainable and transformational change is vital.

The world’s people must accept responsibility for this emergency and act now to ensure we pass on a rich natural heritage to future generations.

Image credit: WCS Tim Davenport
Bird in the wild

Threats

The key threats that are driving population declines and extinctions include :

Habitat loss & degradation

As nature is destroyed to make space for new houses and industrial, agricultural or commercial zones, it is no longer available for species to feed and find shelter.

Poaching

Poaching can result in threatened animals becoming extinct. It can also create a disruption in the food chain, which indirectly impacts the population of other species.

Diseases

Globalisation increases the prevalence of infectious diseases for both animal and plant species. Humans are also at risk, as plant diseases can wipe out crops, and infectious disease outbreaks in wildlife can evolve into pandemics.

Pollution

Landfills, industrial plants, cities and toxic chemicals have a negative impact on biodiversity, which will ultimately worsen the climate change crisis. Pollutants also have a range of impacts on species, such as reduced fertility, mortality and the accumulation of toxins in tissues.

Climate change

Rising temperatures, droughts and the acidification of oceans are some of the threats making existing habitats inhospitable for many species. This can cause other problems, such as forcing people to move to alternative habitats and use alternative resources, leading to further conflicts.

Invasive alien species

Alien species can cause the decline or even extinction of native species. They can change the balance of existing food webs, leading to an eventual ecosystem collapse. Alien species can also increase the prevalence of wildlife diseases that they themselves are less susceptible to.

Human-wildlife conflict

The deliberate act of killing animals either in retaliation or as a preventive method is one of the reasons why many species are on the brink of extinction. Wildlife attacks on people, livestock and crops also lead to increased poverty in communities, forcing them to secure more resources from the environment, placing more pressure on ecosystems.

Disruption of water flow

The disruption of water flow caused by climate change can result in both flooding and droughts. Additionally, deforestation or overgrazing leads to loss of vegetation, which can negatively impact the rain water stored in the soil. This will ultimately lead to loss of top soil essential for the growth of natural vegetation or crops, which can cause communities and animals to move, become extinct or use other habitats and resources.

Over-exploitation of natural resources & prey depletion

The unsustainable use of natural resources can cause the disappearance of delicate ecosystems, affecting the animals that depend on them. The overexploitation of species within an ecosystem results in a loss of balance between its complex and different components, which can eventually lead to extinction.

Reduced genetic diversity

Fragmented and isolated populations, or populations that have survived with a low number of individuals for generations, lead to reduced genetic diversity. This causes problems, such as the ability to maintain resistance to certain diseases and reduced fertility.

Why Now?

  • In the last 12 months, the world has changed: from youth to business, the global community has now recognised the irreplaceable and vital role of biodiversity and its intrinsic link to the climate change crisis we are facing.
  • Biodiversity is affected by climate change, with negative consequences for human health, but biodiversity, through the ecosystem services it supports, also makes an important contribution to both climate-change mitigation and adaptation: conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is critical to addressing climate change (Secretariat on Convention on Biological Diversity, 2019).
  • We cannot overcome climate change without the help of ecosystems: they provide up to 35% of the solutions that can help keep global warming below 2°C (Griscom et all, 2017).
  • Yet, the current global response if insufficient: more than 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction (IPBES, 2019).
  • The current rate of species extinction has no precedent since the dinosaurs’ extinction 66 million years ago.