The most recent assessment of 14,669 threatened European plant and animal species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species has found that 19 percent are at risk of extinction.
Some of the main reasons for the decline in biodiversity are habitat loss, changes in agricultural land use, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and commercial and residential development.
“It is perhaps most important to remember that whether the figure being used by policy- and decision-makers is 1 million or even more – the urgency and priority of the global biodiversity crisis remains,” said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), as The Guardian reported. “We are losing biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people at rates never before seen in human history.”
The study examined a variety of species living in Europe, including mammals, trees, snails, reptiles and ferns.
The species the scientists studied represent about 10 percent of the plants and animals living on land or in marine or freshwater environments in Europe, a press release from the Public Library of Science said.
The researchers found that 27 percent of plant species, 24 percent of invertebrate animals and 18 percent of vertebrate species were threatened with extinction. The number of invertebrate species at risk is much higher than the most recent estimates by IPBES.
“These numbers exceed recent IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) assumptions of extinction risk. Changes in agricultural practices and associated habitat loss, overharvesting, pollution and development are major threats to biodiversity. Maintaining and restoring sustainable land and water use practices is crucial to minimize future biodiversity declines,” the authors of the study wrote.
The study, “A multi-taxon analysis of European Red Lists reveals major threats to biodiversity,” was published in the journal PLOS One.
Adding to the concern for invertebrate and plant species is that scientists don’t know enough about most of them. The researchers could not even analyze the conservation status of a quarter of invertebrate species due to lack of data, according to a press release from London’s Natural History Museum (NHM). European bees have been relatively well-studied, for example, but 57 percent of them were determined to be “Data Deficient.”
“The threats for freshwater invertebrates will be similar for most of them, such as water pollution and eutrophication,” said Dr. Dmitry Telnov, curator of beetles at NHM, in the museum’s press release. “For terrestrial invertebrates, it is very likely that one of the common threats will be the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. It is obvious that insecticides will kill most of the insects, but it is perhaps less obvious that it will also be affecting soil fauna like snails and earthworms. But we have very little information about that.”
The researchers called for more investment and action to counter the loss of biodiversity, as well as further research.
“This study shows we have a very high proportion of species which are threatened with extinction, but we can do something about it,” said the study’s lead researcher Axel Hochkirch of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Luxembourg, as reported by The Guardian.
Hochkirch pointed out how effective conservation efforts had been for large predators in Europe, like wolves, bears, lynx and white-tailed eagles.
“We see whenever conservation action is taking place, these improvements happen,” Hochkirch said.
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This article by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes was first published by EcoWatch on 10 November 2023. Lead Image: Brown bears by a road in Romania. The species is on the IUCN Red List and is endangered in much of Europe. danm / Moment / Getty Images.