/ 18 October 2022

Living Planet Index: Wildlife populations have declined by 69% since 1970

Together Botswana
The planet is becoming increasingly hostile for wildlife, with new research indicating a 69% decline in populations worldwide.

The planet is becoming increasingly hostile for wildlife, with new research indicating a 69% decline in populations worldwide. 

This is according to the Living Planet Index, a report published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. 

The index measures how animal populations change over time. Whether the monitored populations decrease or increase, the changes are averaged to produce one number, in this instance 69%. 

Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and an author of the index, said: “The Living Planet Index is a contemporary view on the health of the populations that underpin the functioning of nature across the planet.”

The index has data on wildlife populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish from 1970 to 2018. This information is based on the monitoring of almost 32 000 populations of 5 230 vertebrate species. The study only looked at vertebrates and not invertebrates, which make up the majority of species.

Freshwater fish are among the hardest hit, with an average decline of 83% since 1970, with populations in Latin America declining by 94% and by 66% in Africa. 

This happened because of habitat loss and barriers to migration routes for fish species. The other reasons for these grim numbers are habitat loss and degradation, as well as overexploitation of species through hunting, fishing and poaching. 

The study also shows the global population of sharks and rays has declined by 71% over the past 50 years, due primarily to an 18-fold increase in fishing pressure since 1970. These creatures are important for the health of oceans but have become increasingly valued for their meat and some of their parts are used for their purported medicinal properties.

“The Living Planet Index highlights how we have cut away the very foundation of life and the situation continues to worsen. Half of the global economy and billions of people are directly reliant on nature,” said Andrew Terry, the director of conservation and policy at the Zoological Society of London.

“Preventing further biodiversity loss and restoring vital ecosystems has to be at the top of global agendas to tackle the mounting climate, environmental and public health crises.” 

The index warns that if the world breaches the 1.5°C global warming threshold, the climate crises will be the prevalent reason for biodiversity loss. 

With a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, there might still be a chance that the trend of nature’s decline can be reversed, according to the index. 

The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, in December is where governments will come together to agree on a new set of goals to guide global actions until 2040 to protect and restore nature.