Living Planet Report 2016: Risk and Resilience in a New Era

The 2016 Living Planet Report, put together by the Zoological Society of London and World Wildlife Foundation, has been released.

We are no longer a small world on a big planet. We are now a big world on a small planet, where we have reached a saturation point. Unsustainability at all scales, from localized deforestation to air pollution from cars, hits the planetary ceiling, putting our future at risk. Fifty years of exponential growth has accumulated to such an extent that we have reached Planetary Boundaries – and crashed through them. -Johan Rockström, Executive Director Stockholm Resilience Centre

The 2016 Living Planet Report, put together by the Zoological Society of London and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), is constructed around a new concept: the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the era we live in now, characterized by unprecedented environmental change. Today, human impacts compromise nature’s resilience and threaten to irreversibly damage Earth’s natural systems. We also face a potential threat of exhausting resources beyond their capacity to regenerate.

One of the cornerstones of sustainability on Earth is biodiversity, which is particularly at risk today. Alarming statistics of wildlife population declines and extinctions have led to a serious problem for our planet: the sixth mass extinction–the first to be caused by humans. According to the report:

Recent studies suggest probable extinction rates at present are up to 100-1,000 extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years, which is much higher than the long-term rate of extinction (excluding the episodes of crisis in Earth’s history) – the background extinction rate (Ceballos et al., 2015; Steffen et al., 2015a). This suggests that we are on the edge of a sixth mass extinction.

island conservation extinction graph

Figure demonstrating cumulative vertebrate extinctions. Credit: Living Plant Report 2016

A primary driver of extinctions globally is invasive alien species. Once introduced, invasive species can quickly upset ecosystem balances that have taken millennia to establish. The Living Planet Report points out that reptiles and amphibians are particularly vulnerable to invasive species impacts, especially on islands:

Next to habitat loss and degradation, invasive species and disease are the most common threats to amphibians and reptiles. Either through predation or competition, the negative effects of exotic species on native reptiles has been well documented in several areas of the globe. The introduction of non-native rats, cats and mongooses, together with non-native reptiles, has had an enormous impact on native reptiles, especially on islands (Whitfield Gibbons et al., 2000)

island conservation choros lizard

Native lizard on Choros Island, Chile. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

Island Conservation has taken the problem of invasive species head-on. Our small non-profit organization conducts conservation interventions with partners and local island communities in order to fulfill our mission of preventing extinctions. We have found that removing invasive species populations from islands allows pre-invasion ecosystem balances to be restored, offering native flora and fauna populations to rebound and recover. Not only do ecosystems benefit from invasive species removal–people do too. The state of the environment is linked to human economies, health, and well-being. Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF International wrote:

The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself. We are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.

Therefore, addressing the problems facing the environment today is synonymous with addressing the problems facing humans today. Lambertini continued:

We are beginning to increasingly understand that a diverse, healthy, resilient and productive natural environment is the foundation for a prosperous, just and safe future for humanity. This will be crucial if we are to win the many other human development battles such as combating poverty, improving health and building economies.

island conservation residents of anguar

Residents of Anguar, Palau. Protecting biodiversity benefits people. Credit: Island Conservation

Fortunately, awareness of the vulnerability of the planet to human impacts is growing. We are proud to contribute to that awareness and engage conservation actions needed to support our planet’s biodiversity and overall functioning.

Read more: Living Planet Report 2016
Featured photo: Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. Credit: Jason Zito/Island Conservation

About Sara Kaiser

Sara received a BA in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz in 2014. As a freelance writer and editor, she seeks to produce and highlight stories that support ecological responsibility, body awareness, emotional intelligence, and creative action, and reveal the connections between them.

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