World’s wildlife population has declined by more than 50 percent since 1970

Migratory birds

Since the 1970s, we’ve said good riddance to orange polyester suits and outlandish platform shoes.

But in the last forty years, we’ve also said goodbye to something far more important as well: more than half of the world’s wildlife population.

According to a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature, there’s been a 52 percent drop in the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish from 1970 to 2010.

The findings were published in the 10th edition of Living Planet Report, a biennial science-based analysis of the planet’s health and impact of human activity, reported by the WWF.

“In less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half,” the WWF stated in the release. “These are living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth—and the barometer of what we are doing to our planet, our home.”

The report uses the Living Planet Index, a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London, which measures trends in thousands of vertebrate species populations.

According to the Index, freshwater species populations declined by 76 percent, due to major threats to habitat and fragmentation, pollution and the introduction of invasive species. Terrestrial population numbers dropped by 39 percent, a trend that the report says “shows no sign of slowing down.” Marine populations also dropped by 39 percent, with the steepest decline occurring from 1970 to the mid 1980s. Of the marine population, the most threatened species are turtles, many types of sharks, and large migratory birds like the wandering albatross.

The Index found that while biodiversity is shrinking in temperate regions, the greatest decline is occurring in the tropics. Specifically, Latin America is facing the most dramatic decline at 83 percent.

“Habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing, are the primary causes of decline,” the Index states. “Climate change is the next most common primary threat, and is likely to put more pressure on populations in the future.”

The report found that we would need 1.5 Earths to meet the demands humanity currently makes on nature each year. Canada is the 11th largest consumer of natural resources on a per capita basis.

“The report shows our footprint on the planet continues to rise,” says WWF’s director general, Marco Lambertini. “That means we’re cutting trees faster than they can re-grow, we’re catching fish faster than they can reproduce, we’re emitting more CO2 than oceans and forests can absorb. We’re on an unsustainable path.”

Although the report paints a bleak picture, we can curb these devastating losses at a local and global level. On the international level, the report recommends we work towards restoring damaged ecosystems, protecting priority habitats, managing resource sustainability, and investing in renewable energy production. Individually, we should consume more wisely and lead low-footprint lifestyles.