News Release

Why is biodiversity in crisis?

03 September 2010
Biodiversity in crisis

The escalating extinction crisis shows that the diversity of nature cannot support the current pressure that humanity is placing on the planet.

Every day biodiversity is being lost at up to 1,000 times the natural rate. The extinction of individual species, but also habitat destruction, land conversion for agriculture and development, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species are only some of the threats responsible for today's crisis.

With the current biodiversity loss, we are witnessing the greatest extinction crisis since dinosaurs disappeared from our planet 65 million years ago. Not only are these extinctions irreversible, but they also pose a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. 


  • Coral reefs provide food, storm protection, jobs, recreation and other income sources for more than 500 million people worldwide yet 70% of coral reefs are threatened or destroyed.
  • 17,936 species out of 52,017 assessed so far are threatened with extinction.
  • Of the world’s 5,490 mammals, 78 are Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, with 188 Critically Endangered, 450 Endangered and 492 Vulnerable.
  • 1,895 of the planet’s 6,285 amphibians are in danger of extinction, making them one of the most threatened groups of species known to date.


What are the main threats to biodiversity?

Threats to biodiversity are numerous and human activity is responsible for most of them.

  • Habitat loss and degradation affects 86% of all threatened birds, 86% of the threatened mammals assessed and 88% of the threatened amphibians.
  • Introductions of Invasive Alien Species that establish and spread outside their normal distribution. Some of the most threatening invasive species include cats and rats, green crabs, zebra mussels, the African tulip tree and the brown tree snake. Introductions of alien species can happen deliberately or unintentionally, for example, by organisms “hitch-hiking” in containers, ships, cars or soil.
  • Over-exploitation of natural resources. Resource extraction, hunting, and fishing for food, pets, and medicine.
  • Pollution and diseases. For example, excessive fertilizer use leads to excessive levels of nutrients in soil and water.
  • Human-induced climate change. For example, climate change is altering migratory species patterns, and increasing coral bleaching.

What about climate change?

Biodiversity and climate change are very closely related issues.

Biodiversity is strongly affected by climate change so we need to make additional efforts to minimize the negative influence of other factors, such as over-exploitation, habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and the spread of invasive alien species. This way we can ensure that ecosystems are less vulnerable and more resilient to the increasing threat posed by climate change.

But climate change can also largely benefit from conserved biodiversity and particularly healthy ecosystems when these are placed at the very centre of the efforts to tackle climate change.

Through absorbing and storing carbon in a range of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, such as forests, peatlands and other wetlands, biodiversity contributes to climate change mitigation- by storing carbon dioxide.

Biodiversity also helps people to adapt to climate change through providing the ecosystem services which reduce their vulnerability and enhance their adaptive capacity to change. This includes the coastal protection provided by coastal mangrove forests from flooding and coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise and more powerful storms.


  • The abundance of species has declined by 40% between 1970 and 2000. Species present in rivers, lakes and marshlands have declined by 50%.
  • In the North Atlantic, fish have declined by 66% in the last 50 years.
  • Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year.
  • In the Caribbean region, hard coral cover has declined from 50% to 10% in the last three decades.
  • 35% of mangroves have been lost in just 20 years.


From time immemorial, nature has fed us, cured us, and protected us. But today the roles have switched. We need to feed nature, we need to cure it and protect it if we want to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our children.




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