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Visualizing the Biggest Threats to Earth’s Biodiversity

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Earth's biodiversity loss

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The Biggest Threats to Earth’s Biodiversity

Biodiversity benefits humanity in many ways.

It helps make the global economy more resilient, it functions as an integral part of our culture and identity, and research has shown it’s even linked to our physical health.

However, despite its importance, Earth’s biodiversity has decreased significantly over the last few decades. In fact, between 1970 and 2016, the population of vertebrate species fell by 68% on average worldwide. What’s causing this global decline?

Today’s graphic uses data from WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 to illustrate the biggest threats to Earth’s biodiversity, and the impact each threat has had globally.

Measuring the Loss of Biodiversity

Before looking at biodiversity’s biggest threats, first thing’s first—how exactly has biodiversity changed over the years?

WWF uses the Living Planet Index (LPI) to measure biodiversity worldwide. Using data from over 4,000 different species, LPI tracks the abundance of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians across the globe.

Here’s a look at each region’s average decline between 1970 and 2016:

RankRegionAverage decline (between 1970 and 2016)
1Latin America & Caribbean94%
2Africa65%
3Asia Pacific45%
4North America33%
5Europe and Central Asia24%

Latin America & Caribbean has seen the biggest drop in biodiversity at 94%. This region’s drastic decline has been mainly driven by declining reptile, amphibian, and fish populations.

Despite varying rates of loss between regions, it’s clear that overall, biodiversity is on the decline. What main factors are driving this loss, and how do these threats differ from region to region?

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, Overall

While it’s challenging to create an exhaustive list, WWF has identified five major threats and shown each threats proportional impact, averaged across all regions:

ThreatProportion of threat (average across all regions)
Changes in land and sea use50%
Species overexploitation24%
Invasive species and disease13%
Pollution7%
Climate Change6%

Across the board, changes in land and sea use account for the largest portion of loss, making up 50% of recorded threats to biodiversity on average. This makes sense, considering that approximately one acre of the Earth’s rainforests is disappearing every two seconds.

Species overexploitation is the second biggest threat at 24% on average, while invasive species takes the third spot at 13%.

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, By Region

When looking at the regional breakdown, the order of threats in terms of biodiversity impact is relatively consistent across all regions—however, there are a few discrepancies:

In Latin America and Caribbean, climate change has been a bigger biodiversity threat than in other regions, and this is possibly linked to an increase in natural disasters. Between 2000 and 2013, the region experienced 613 extreme climate and hydro-meteorological events, from typhoons and hurricanes to flash floods and droughts.

Another notable variation from the mean is species over-exploitation in Africa, which makes up 35% of the region’s threats. This is higher than in other regions, which sit around 18-27%.

While the regional breakdowns differ slightly from place to place, one thing remains constant across the board—all species, no matter how small, play an important role in the maintenance of Earth’s ecosystems.

Will we continue to see a steady decline in Earth’s biodiversity, or will things level out in the near future?

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40 Years of U.S. Wildfires, in One Chart

Wildfires are blazing across the U.S with unprecedented intensity. Here is how activity has evolved over four decades.

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The following content is sponsored by Carbon Streaming

Note: This infographic contains forward looking information based on current expectations and beliefs of Carbon Streaming Corporation. For further information about the risks, uncertainties and assumptions related to such forward looking information, please see their legal notice.

40 Years of U.S. Wildfires, in One Chart

Wildfires are becoming more intense and widespread—largely due to rising temperatures caused by climate change. 

What’s more, experts predict a whopping 50% surge in wildfires by 2100.

We partnered with Carbon Streaming to illustrate four decades (1983–2023) of wildfire activity in the U.S. Let’s dive in.

The Evolution of Wildfires Over Time

The data we used comes from the National Interagency Fire Center and highlights the number of wildfires that occurred between 1983 and 2023, along with the average acres burned over the same time period. The 5-year rolling average was calculated based on the current year plus the preceding four years.

As the table below shows, the total area burned across the U.S. in 2023 was significantly below average, and the number of wildfires was slightly below average due in part to cooler weather conditions.

YearNumber of WildfiresAcres Burned 5-Year Rolling Average
202356,5802,693,9106,436,687
202268,9887,577,1837,651,404
202158,9857,125,6438,141,184
202058,95010,122,3367,818,055
201950,4774,664,3647,818,617
201858,0838,767,4927,604,867
201771,49910,026,0866,715,278
201667,7435,509,9956,575,308
201568,15110,125,1497,215,583
201463,3123,595,6135,875,098
201347,5794,319,5466,340,332
201267,7749,326,2386,534,917
201174,1268,711,3676,535,278
201071,9713,422,7246,767,754
200978,7925,921,7867,821,087
200878,9795,292,4688,256,305
200785,7059,328,0457,989,980
200696,3859,873,7457,561,314
200566,7538,689,3896,300,747
200465,4618,097,880*6,041,568
200363,6293,960,8425,547,210
200273,4577,184,7125,020,983
200184,0793,570,9114,155,432
200092,2507,393,4934,654,449
199992,4875,626,0933,543,860
199881,0431,329,7043,233,357
199766,1962,856,9593,326,931
199696,3636,065,9983,169,525
199582,2341,840,5462,547,041
199479,1074,073,5793,103,256
199358,8101,797,5742,654,002
199287,3942,069,9293,296,346
199175,7542,953,5783,371,819
199066,4814,621,6213,324,936
198948,9491,827,3102,979,841
198872,7505,009,2902,844,061
198771,3002,447,2962,106,936
198685,9072,719,162N/A
198582,5912,896,147N/A
198420,4931,148,409N/A
198318,2291,323,666N/A

*2004 fires and acres do not include state lands for North Carolina

What’s the impact of the increasing burned areas and severity of wildfires over time? 

Simply put, when wildfires burn, they release smoke and gas into the air which makes the Earth warmer, making it easier for more wildfires to start and spread. This cycle is often referred to as the fires and climate feedback loop, and is the reason why experts believe that wildfires will only continue to worsen.

Wildfire Havoc in the West

2023 marked a year of severe wildfire destruction on the West Coast and in Hawaii. The Maui wildfires in August, for example, led to the destruction of 2,308 structures and at time of writing, 5,000 residents are still displaced six months later. Additionally, the cost of rebuilding Maui could exceed $5 billion and take several years.

Post-wildfire restoration is a critical piece of climate change mitigation, particularly in the states that need it the most. 

What Can Be Done?

In partnership with Mast Reforestation, Carbon Streaming is advancing its pipeline of post-wildfire reforestation projects in Western U.S. states. 

To date, Carbon Streaming has entered into carbon credit streams to provide funding for three reforestation projects—Sheep Creek in Montana and Feather River and Baccala Ranch in California.

Mast Reforestation’s unique approach combines proven reforestation practices with new technology to regrow resilient, climate-adapted forests. Want to know more?

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