Biodiversity Loss

Key Points

Holocene extinction event

  • Most biologists believe that we are at this moment at the beginning of a tremendously accelerated anthropogenic mass extinction.
  • E.O. Wilson of Harvard, in The Future of Life (2002), estimates that at current rates of human disruption of the biosphere, one-half of all species of life will be extinct by 2100.
  • The reasons for the current mass extinction are all human related and include deforestation and other habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change with the United Nations estimating that the world is facing its worst extinction period since the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago.
  • By 2050 Warming to Doom Million Species, Study Says
    • "Climate change now represents at least as great a threat to the number of species surviving on Earth as habitat-destruction and modification," said Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
    • According to the researchers' collective results, the predicted range of climate change by 2050 will place 15 to 35 percent of the 1,103 species studied at risk of extinction. The numbers are expected to hold up when extrapolated globally, potentially dooming more than a million species.
    • The researchers based their study on minimum, mid-range, and maximum future climate scenarios based on information released by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001.
  • Measuring extinction, species by species
    • The UN Convention on Biological Diversity estimates they may be vanishing faster than they are found, at a rate of three per hour, the fastest in millions of years.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre


Scientific Facts on Biodiversity

  • Virtually all of Earth’s ecosystems have been dramatically transformed through human actions and ecosystems continue to be converted for agricultural and other uses.
  • The current loss of biodiversity and the related changes in the environment are now faster than ever before in human history and there is no sign of this process slowing down.
  • Human activity has increased the extinction rate by at least 100 times compared to the natural rate.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)

  1. Human actions are often contributing to irreversible losses in terms of diversity of life on Earth. Changes in biodiversity have been more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history and are expected to continue at the same pace or even to accelerate.
  2. Biodiversity contributes directly or indirectly to many aspects of human well-being, for instance by providing raw materials and contributing to health. Over the past century, many people have benefited from the conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural land and from the exploitation of biodiversity.
  3. Although many individuals benefit from activities that lead to biodiversity loss and ecosystem change, the full costs borne by society often exceed the benefits.
  4. Factors such as habitat change, climate change, and a growing population and consumption will continue to cause losses in biodiversity and changes in ecosystem service at the present pace or even faster.
  5. Many of the actions that have been taken to conserve biodiversity and promote its sustainable use have been successful in limiting biodiversity loss. Overall the losses are now occurring more slowly than they would have in the absence of these actions taken by communities, NGOs, governments, as well as business and industry.
  6. Unprecedented additional efforts would be needed to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss at all levels by 2010.

WWF - Living Planet Report 2008


Human impacts and vulnerability (GLOBIO)



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