As environmental and anthropogenic pressures mount, threatened species are inching closer to extinction. According to a new paper led by researchers at Newcastle University, roughly 57% of these species require targeted interventions to ensure their continued survival.
Humanity as a whole is completely dependent on the world around us for our livelihoods; this should come as no surprise to anybody. But, as ecosystems around us incur more and more damage due to various pressures, chief among them being climate change, pollution, and the destruction of natural habitats to make room for ever-growing human societies, the foundation of our wellbeing is being eroded.
In a bid to maintain the health of the world around us and, ultimately, that of our own species, the members of the United States are at present negotiating a Global Biodiversity Framework, whose stated goal is to help safeguard the natural world. This framework is due to be adopted by the end of 2022.
A team of researchers has been investigating whether and how the targets suggested in this Framework could help reduce the extinction risk for threatened species of vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. According to the findings, while general targets of expanding protected areas or slashing pollution will benefit many species, some will need a more targeted, hands-on approach. Specifically, 57% of threatened species would require recovery actions tailored to them specifically in order to stave off extinction.
Such targeted measures include captive breeding in zoos, the reintroduction of individuals into the wild, population relocation, and vaccination campaigns, among others.
“This research shows that we can’t stop species from going extinct just by protecting particular areas and addressing key threats: some species needed dedicated efforts to help them recover,” explains Dr. Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International, co-author of the study. “It is critical therefore that governments adopt specific and measurable goals on species conservation, and a clear commitment to implement the actions needed to achieve these.”
The project brought together a team of ecology and conservation experts, including scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), BirdLife International, and a global network of universities, under the leadership of researchers at Newcastle University.
Its findings are quite grim. Roughly 57% of the species that are listed as threatened or worse on the IUCN Red List today do not have a realistic hope of improving their status in the absence of tailored, focused recovery interventions. This verdict takes into account the many policies and initiatives already suggested in the Framework that are meant to tackle wide-ranging pressures such as land- and sea-use, overexploitation of natural landscapes and resources, pollution, climate change, or invasive species.
“[However], these alone will not remove the risk of extinction that these species face. Now, we can identify the species that need such action, and we can monitor what is being done and what the impact of action is on those threatened species,” says Professor Philip McGowan, Professor of Conservation Science and Policy at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, the study’s corresponding author.
The study is based on 7,784 species listed as either ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’, and ‘Critically Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The authors considered the targets included in the first draft of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework and assessed the potential benefits each of these would bring to every one of the species included in the paper.
In regards to which of the measures included in the draft would have the most impact, they report that Target 1, implementing spatial planning to retain existing intact ecosystems, Target 2, restoring degraded ecosystems and ensuring connectivity among them, and Target 3, protecting important areas for biodiversity, would be particularly important and benefit around 95% of all of today’s threatened species.
However, these 3 targets, along with the remaining 5 — which focus on topics such as reducing environmental pressures from unsustainable use and exploitation, the control of invasive species, pollution, and climate change — would not be enough by themselves. Around 57% of all of today’s threatened species, some 4,428 species, would still be at significant risk of going extinct even if these targets were implemented and achieved completely.
In other words, the health of these species has been eroded so far that they require tailor-made interventions to ensure their survival. For example, the Black Stilt, a threatened waterbird from New Zealand, requires captive-rearing (breeding in zoos or sanctuaries) and release of individuals, as well as the control of Black-winged Stilt hybrids to prevent genetic extinction. Predator control and habitat management would also be needed to secure the future of these animals and prevent the species from going extinct.
The findings, on one hand, showcase the extent to which many of the planet’s species have been pushed – so far, in fact, that thousands require specific interventions to avoid extinction. But, on the other hand, it shows that it is not yet too late and that these species can be preserved if there is a will to do so.
Hopefully, the latter will come to pass, and we will see sustained efforts from UN signatories to preserve the natural world around us.
The paper “Over half of threatened species require targeted recovery actions to avert human-induced extinction” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.