Species SOS: Habitat destruction, exploitation imperil threatened species

Habitat destruction and overharvesting endanger more than 8,000 species on the “red list” of the world’s threatened species.

The “red list” is maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which convenes its World Conservation Congress in Hawaii Sept. 1–10. The list is the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

In mid-August, the IUCN and the Wildlife Conservation Society at the University of Queensland warned the conversion of habitat into agricultural lands and overharvesting imperils three-quarters of the world’s already threatened species.

The over-exploitation of animals or land is taking place at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth, the team of scientists found.

The scientists said 72 percent of species are imperiled by over-exploitation and 62 percent of species are imperiled by agricultural activity.

“Addressing these old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland. “This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda.”

The scientists identified 5,407 species threatened by agriculture, including the African wild dog, Asia’s hairy-nosed otter and the cheetah.

Illegal hunting is decimating populations of all rhinoceros and elephant species, as well as the Western gorilla and Chinese pangolin.

Other threats are affecting substantially fewer species. For example, climate change — currently ranked seventh among the 11 threats the scientists studied — threatens hooded seals.

In Hawaii, scientists, government officials, organization leaders and industry representatives will gather to focus on how best to deal with the biggest threats to biodiversity.

“Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis, but climate change could become an increasingly dominant threat for species in the coming decades,” said Dr. Thomas Brooks of the IUCN.

He added that actions that best reduce current threats “are often a sensible first step in responding to the challenges of rapid climate change.”

On the web

Find the IUCN Red List at iucn.org.