2m species are facing extinction, new study warns

10 Nov 2023

Image: © WONG SZE FEI/Stock.adobe.com

The new estimate doubles the figure issued by a UN report in 2019 and noted that the risk to invertebrates in particular was previously underestimated.

A new study suggests the number of species facing extinction is far higher than previously thought.

The authors behind the study estimate that 2m plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. This is double the estimate that was listed in a UN report in 2019.

The study claims that various factors have contributed to this extinction risk, such as changes in agricultural land-use, overexploitation of biological resources, pollution and the development of residential and commercial sites.

To make their estimate, a group of researchers looked at 14,669 threatened plant and animal species found in Europe. These species are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

The study said the selected species account for roughly 10pc of all animals and plants found on land and marine environments in Europe.

The researchers found that overall 19pc of these species face the threat of extinction, including 27pc of plants, 24pc of invertebrates and 18pc of vertebrates. The researchers claim that the proportion of invertebrates at risk of extinction appears to greatly exceed previous estimates.

The team said there are “several uncertainties” associated with using European data to make a global estimate, but noted that other evidence suggests that the global extinction risk “does not deviate strongly from the European status”.

The researchers also warned that there is a general “lack of data” on the population status and demographics of various species, which “confirms the need for biodiversity monitoring programmes”.

“For nearly half of all species and for 60pc of invertebrates, the population trend was classified as ‘unknown’ by the Red List assessors,” the researchers said.

The study suggests that agricultural land-use changes are the most significant threat to European species and that this impact is “more prominent in invertebrates and plants”.

“Residential and commercial development is an important cause of habitat loss and degradation affecting many invertebrate and plant species, whereas pollution is particularly threatening to freshwater species, such as fishes, molluscs and dragonflies,” the team said.

“Climate change is also an important threat to many species and has been classified as the most important emerging future threat.”

Earlier this year, a study by Queens University Belfast suggested that nearly half of all species are declining towards extinction. This study involved a global-scale analysis of biodiversity loss based on population trends, rather than using the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s threat conservation categories as a measurement.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic