Wildlife in crisis? It’s not as bad as we thought: Study

November 18, 2020

Climate change and increasing human activity have raised concerns about the future of wildlife species around the world. A new study published today in Nature provides a glimmer of hope that conservation efforts over the last five decades have not been in vain.  

While recent estimates have suggested that birds, fish, mammals, and other vertebrate species may have declined by as much as 50 per cent since 1970, researchers found that an extreme number of deaths in a small subset of animal species—making up just one per cent of populations—is largely behind the overall declining trend.

Dan Greenberg, an SFU postdoctoral researcher who worked on the study as a PhD student, is among the contributors to the McGill University-led study. The team developed a statistical model which analyzed data from more than 14,000 vertebrae populations in the Living Planet Database. They found that extreme declines in a minority of populations were driving down the trend statistics, while most species’ populations were generally stable.

The researchers acknowledge that there are still widespread systemic declines in some populations, such as reptiles in tropical areas of North, Central and South America and birds in the Indo-Pacific region. Their study also pinpoints regions that do require urgent conservation efforts in order to protect wildlife in those areas where their numbers are significantly decreasing.

In B.C. for example, numbers of woodland caribou have decreased by about 60 per cent over the past few decades.

“Moving forward, we need to understand how and why certain species or regions appear to be disproportionately affected by human activities, as this knowledge is critical for both targeting conservation interventions and highlighting what we are poised to lose if we do not change how we as humans relate to the natural world,” says Greenberg.