The main driver of wildlife extinction is not climate change, but humanity’s harvesting of species and our ever-expanding agricultural footprint. This is according to a new study of nearly 9,000 ‘threatened’ or ‘near-threatened’ species.
This graphic shows the main causes of biodiversity decline. By far the greatest is overpopulation, followed by agriculture and urbanisation
While scientists acknowledge climate change is a threat, they found that three-quarters are being over-exploited for commerce, recreation or subsistence.
The main driver of wildlife extinction is not climate change but humanity’s harvesting of species and our ever-expanding agricultural footprint. For instance, demand for meat and body parts has driven the gorilla to near extinction
Demand for meat and body parts, for example, have driven the Western gorilla and Chinese pangolin to near extinction, and pushed the Sumatran rhinoceros – prized in China for bogus medicines made from its horn – over the edge.
And more than half of the 8,688 species of animals and plants evaluated are suffering due to the conversion of their natural habitats into industrial farms and plantations, mainly to raise livestock and grow commodity crops for fuel or food.
By comparison, only 19 per cent of these species are currently affected by climate change, they reported in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
Conservation budgets, the researchers argued, must reflect this reality.
‘Addressing the old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis,’ said lead author Sean Maxwell, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia.
These threats, rather than climate change, ‘must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda,’ he said in a statement.
The provocative appeal – which elicited sharp reactions – comes a month before a crucial meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN.)
The IUCN also manages the gold-standard Red List of endangered species, tracking and cataloguing the health of Earth’s flora and fauna.
Climate change has overshadowed more traditional conservation priorities over the last decade, siphoning limited resources – and cash – away from more urgent needs, the authors argued.