Loss of habitat, overexploitation and climate change were identified as major factors that threatened the survival of forest animals
There has been a 53 per cent decline in the number of forest wildlife populations since 1970, according to the first-ever global assessment of forest biodiversity by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Wildlife is an essential component of natural and healthy forests. They play a major role in forest regeneration and carbon storage by engaging in pollination and seed dispersal. Thus, loss of fauna can have severe implications for forest health, the climate and humans who depend on forests for their livelihoods, showed the report Below the Canopy.
Until now, forest biodiversity had never been assessed, but forest area was often used as a proxy indicator.
The new findings were based on the Forest Specialist Index, developed following the Living Planet Index methodology — an index that tracks wildlife that lives only in forests. In total, data was available for 268 species (455 populations) of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Of the 455 monitored populations of forest specialists, more than half declined at an annual rate of 1.7 per cent, on average between 1970 and 2014.
While the decline was consistent in these years among mammals, reptiles and amphibians (particularly from the tropical forests), it was less among birds (especially from temperate forests), showed the report.
Further, the report found that just the changes in tree cover — deforestation or reforestation — were not responsible for the decline in wildlife populations. Other major threats were:
Loss of habitat due to logging, agricultural expansion, mining, hunting, conflicts and spread of diseases accounted for almost 60 per cent of threats.
Nearly 20 per cent of threats were due to overexploitation. Of the 112 forest-dwelling primate populations, 40 were threatened by overexploitation (hunting), the report showed.
Climate change, on the other hand, threatened to 43 per cent of amphibian populations, 37 per cent of reptile populations, 21 per cent of bird populations but only 3 per cent of mammal populations.
More than 60 per cent of threatened forest specialist populations faced more than one threat, the report noted.
“Not only are forests a treasure trove of life on earth, they’re also our greatest natural ally in the fight against climate breakdown. We lose them at our peril,” said Will Baldwin-Cantello, WWF global forest lead, in a release.
Protecting wildlife and reversing the decline of nature requires urgent global action. The need is to preserve harmonious land use in our region, including forest management and protect the most valuable surviving ecosystems, the report said.
“We need global leaders to immediately kickstart action to protect and restore nature and keep our forests standing,” Baldwin-Cantello added.
Only a quarter of land on Earth is now free of the impacts of human activities. In a bid to to conserve nature, world leaders have agreed to launch a New Deal for Nature and People in 2020 in China.
The new set of commitments will likely draw together a global biodiversity framework with reinvigorated action under the Paris Agreement and the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals.
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