Species Extinction & Ecosystem Collapse

In just the past 50 years wildlife populations have reduced by an average of 51% [1]. Animal farming and fishing is the leading cause of this decline [2] and of species extinction generally. Current global species extinction rates are 100 – 10,000 times higher than natural background rates [1]. Animal agriculture fuels the core processes driving this mass extinction:

  • habitat loss/degradation [3],
  • exploitation of wild species [4],
  • climate change [5; 6],
  • hunting of predator and ‘competition’ animals perceived as a threat to ‘livestock’ [7],
  • the use of pesticides and other chemicals [8],

Whilst wildlife used to dominate Earth, humans and domesticated animals now account for 36% and 60% of terrestrial vertebrate biomass [9]. Wildlife therefore only accounts for 4%. Humans have now significantly altered 75% of land-based ecosystems and 66% of marine ecosystems [10].

At present, the biomass of predatory fish communities has been reduced to roughly 10% of their pre-industrial levels [11] as their populations are being killed by the fishing industry faster than their populations can recover. The continuation of this trend in fishing could potentially lead to the global collapse of all marine species currently being exploited by 2048 [12].

Insect populations have also plummeted. Forty percent of insect species are now threatened with extinction [13]. Looking at specific examples, in Costa Rica there has been a 98% decline in ground-dwelling species [14], and in Germany a 76% decline in flying species [15]. The leading cause of all of this is the loss of habitat [13], the leading cause of which is animal agriculture [3].

Insects play a vital role in pollination and are one key example of how declining ecosystem health can have detrimental consequences for humans. More than 75% of the different types of food we eat rely either directly or indirectly on pollination [16]: without pollinators, we risk losing all of these foods.

  1. WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland. – https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-10/wwfintl_livingplanet_full.pdf
  2. Machovina, B., Feeley, K.J. and Ripple, W.J., 2015. Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption. Science of the Total Environment, 536, 419-431. – https://www.medicosadventistas.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Biodiversity-conservation-The-key-is-reducing-meat-consumption..pdf
  3. Poore, J. & Nemecek, T., 2018. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360 (6392), 987-992. – https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987
  4. B. Worm, E. B. Barbier, N. Beaumont, J. E. Duffy, C. Folke, B. S. Halpern, J. B. C. Jackson, H. K. Lotze, F. Micheli, S. R. Palumbi, E. Sala, K. A. Selkoe, J. J. Stachowicz, R. Watson, 2006. Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services. Science, 314 (5800), 787-790. – https://science.sciencemag.org/content/314/5800/787
  5. IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. – https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/
  6. S. Rao, 2019. Animal Agriculture is the Leading Cause of Climate Change – A White Paper. – https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55b909f0e4b001c5efc26471/t/5dbd8d8e5dce6b050bcc514e/1572703645725/Animal+Agriculture+White+Paper.pdf
  7. Ripple W. J., Estes J. A., Beschta R. L., Wilmers C. C., Ritchie E. G., Hebblewhite M., Berger J., Elmhagen B., Letnic M., Nelson M. P., Schmitz O. J., Smith D. W., Wallach A. D., Wirsing A. J., 2014. Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores. Science, 343, 1241484 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24408439
  8. R. Isenring, 2010. Pesticides and the loss of biodiversity: How intensive pesticide use affects wildlife populations and species diversity. Pesticide Action Network, London. – https://www.pan-europe.info/old/Resources/Briefings/Pesticides_and_the_loss_of_biodiversity.pdf
  9. Bar-On, Y.M., Phillips, R. and Milo, R., 2018. The biomass distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (25), 6506-6511. – https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506
  10. IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, 2019. United Nations: Paris. – https://www.ipbes.net/system/tdf/ipbes_7_10_add.1_en_1.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=35329
  11. Myers, R.A. & Worm, B., 2003. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature, 423 (6937),280-283. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12748640
  12. Worm, B., Barbier, E.B., Beaumont, N., Duffy, J.E., Folke, C., Halpern, B.S., Jackson, J.B., Lotze, H.K., Micheli, F., Palumbi, S.R. & Sala, E., 2006. Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. science, 314 (5800), 787-790. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17082450
  13. F. Sánchez-Bayo & K. A. G.Wyckhuys, 2019. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation, 232, 8-27. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636
  14. B. C. Lister & A. Garcia, 2018. Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (44), E10397-E10406. – https://www.pnas.org/content/115/44/E10397
  15. C. A. Hallmann, M. Sorg, E. Jongejans, H. Siepel, N. Hofland, H. Schwan, W. Stenmans, A. Müller, H. Sumser, T. Hörren, D. Goulson & H. de Kroon, 2017. More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS One, 12 (10), e0185809. – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
  16. IPBES (2016). The assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production. S.G. Potts, V. L. Imperatriz-Fonseca, and H. T. Ngo, (eds). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany. – https://www.ipbes.net/system/tdf/spm_deliverable_3a_pollination_20170222.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=15248