Food, Soil, and Water at Risk as Two Million Species Face Extinction - Study
Recent research has shone the light on a severe biodiversity crisis, with a focus on the escalating extinction risk among insects, plants, and vertebrates, driven by man-made environmental change.
Recent research published in the PLOS One
peer-reviewed scientific journal has revealed a disturbing rise in species on the brink of extinction. This figure, now estimated at about two million, is twice the 2019 estimates
of the United Nations Environment Program. The significant rise is primarily attributed to the inclusion of more comprehensive insect data, indicating a higher extinction risk than previously assumed.
The study, led by Professor Axel Hochkirch of Luxembourg's National Museum of Natural History, emphasizes the alarming decline in global biodiversity. This decline encompasses a range of species, including plants and vertebrates, signaling a more severe crisis.
Hochkirch lays bare how critical a condition insects are in, stating: “What our study does is really highlight that insects are as threatened as other taxa. And because they are the most species-rich group of animals on our planet, this is really something which should be tackled.”
Invertebrates comprise 97 percent of the animal kingdom, with insects accounting for approximately 90 percent, and play vital roles in our ecosystem. These roles include waste decomposition, pollination, and soil nutrient recycling. The study’s findings are worrying because, as Hochkirch points out: “Without insects, our planet will not be able to survive.”
An analysis of every European species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List revealed troubling statistics:
of these species are on the brink of extinction.
This includes 24 percent
of invertebrates (most of which are pollinators), 27 percent of plant species
, and 18 percent of vertebrates
The decline in natural environments and biodiversity can be linked to various man-made factors. These include agricultural expansion leading to habitat loss, overuse of natural resources, environmental pollution, and the growth of residential and commercial areas.
Experts highlight the crucial role of pollinators and soil organisms in maintaining food quality and ecosystem health. About 75 percent of the crops we consume depend on pollination. Simon Potts, professor of biodiversity and ecosystem services at Reading University, has explained the concept of ‘pollination deficit,’ noting that reduced pollination leads to lower yield and quality in crops such as fruits and vegetables.
“If you get less pollination, you’re going to get less production. But not just less yield ... the quality of that produce is going to go down … your strawberries will be misshapen and they won’t be so packed full of sugars,” Professor Potts said to media sources.
Pollinators also play a significant role in maintaining healthy water sources. They support plant ecosystems that clean water channels with mangroves, aided by pollinators, effectively removing contaminants and managing run-off. However, the global extent of mangroves has declined by about 35 percent since the Nineties.
Extreme weather events, such as droughts and heat waves, directly affect plant life and soil quality. A plant and soil biology expert, Professor Franciska de Vries from Amsterdam University, warns that prolonged exposure to such conditions can drastically harm the soil's biodiversity and affect long-term plant growth, leading to the death of vital soil organisms.