68 per cent of decline in population of species in 50 years

The population of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish declined by 68 per cent n the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The WWF in its ‘Living Planet report 2020’ noted that populations in Latin America and the Caribbean have fared worst, with an average decline of 94 per cent between          1970 and 2016.  The report said that the population trend was a signal; of the broken relationship between humans and the natural world, the consequences of which—as demonstrated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—can be catastrophic.

Stressing that COVID-19 was a clear manifestation of the broken relationship with nature, WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini  said that it highlighted the deep interconnection between the health of people and the planet. Noting that a deep cultural and systemic shift was urgently needed, he said the civilisation had failed to embrace a transition to a society and economic system that values nature. “We must rebalance our relationship with the planet to preserve the Earth’s amazing diversity of life and enable a just, healthy and prosperous society – and ultimately to ensure our own survival. A better future starts with the decisions that governments, companies and people around the world take today. World leaders must take urgent action to protect and restore nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy.”

He also said that it was time for the world to agree a ‘New Deal for Nature and People’, committing to stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2030 and build a carbon-neutral and nature-positive society.


The report points out that land-use change was the most important direct driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial systems in the last several decades. It mainly means the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems. Climate change was not an important driver of the loss of biodiversity to date but is projected to be a game changer in the coming years, the report said.


The report noted that almost 90 per cent of the global wetland has been lost since the last many centuries. It also said that humans have altered millions of kilometres of rivers. These changes had a profound impact on freshwater biodiversity with population trends for monitored freshwater species falling steeply, the report said. It said that the average abundance of 3,741 freshwater populations, that represented 944 species, declined by 84 per cent on average.

In the freshwater system, megafauna species such as sturgeon, river dolphins, Mekong giant catfish, beavers, otters and hippos are subject to intense anthropogenic threats. Mega fishes also are stated to be vulnerable. The report points out to the catches in the Mekong river basin between 2000 and 2015. It said that 78 per cent of species decreased. It said that large fishes were heavily impacted by dam construction.


Soil hosts one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on Earth and terrestrial ecosystems may collapse without it. The report said that there was evidence of rapid declines in insect abundance, diversity and biomass.


The WWF report said that plant extinction was twice as many as for mammals, birds and amphibians combined. One in five plant species are threatened with extinction, the report said.

The explosion in global trade, growth in human population, consumption and enormous movement towards urbanisation has changed the lives. But these have come at a huge cost to nature and the stability of the Earth’s operating systems.


Overfishing, pollution and coastal development, among other things have caused negative impact on the entire ocean, from shallow waters to the deep sea.

Overexploitation, bycatch of non-target species, seafloor habitat destruction from seafloor trawling, illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, gathering of organisms for the aquarium trade, ocean acidification, destruction of habitats, increased pressure on local shorelines, increased pollution and waste, have all led to disturbances in the ocean.


The WWF pointed out that about one-fifth of wild species are at risk of extinction this century due to climate change alone. It shows how climate change lead to drastic population decline on flying foxes and the Bramble Cay melomys.

The report hopes that transforming food production and consumption, aggressive movement to tackle climate change, and investments that conserve, protect, and restore nature could reverse the declining trends. The report highlights the need to transform the economic systems to reflect the ‘natural capital’ that underpins our economic prosperity.


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