Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Three big threats to wildlife in 2019

Our Planet, Netflix’s new nature documentary voiced by David Attenborough, arrives on the online streaming platform today. The series explores the wonders of the natural world, focusing on iconic species and stunning wildlife spectacles. However, as well as highlighting the amazing habitats that make up our planet, the series will also reveal the key issues that are currently threatening them. Created in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Our Planet aims to inspire people all over the world to understand this planet we call home.

In 2018, WWF released the latest Living Planet Report. Produced every two years, it is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of the planet.  This year’s report produced some startling statistics with biodiversity being lost at a rate the WWF says is only seen during mass extinctions. In recent decades wildlife populations have seen a dramatic decline, a 60% decrease in the last 40 years.

The report identifies significant threats to wildlife populations, which include habitat loss, overexploitation, and climate change.

Image credit: “sea-turtles-hatchling” by skeeze. CC BY 2.0 via Pixabay

Increased urbanisation

Dramatic urbanisation has caused species living in urban environments to develop differently from their non-urban counterparts. Urban lizards in particular have shown strong differences in body condition between urban and forest lizards. Certain species of have shown higher levels of parasite infection intensity in urban environments, in comparison to non-urban lizards.

Rising Temperatures

In the last 50 years, global average temperature has risen at 170 times the background rate, and this is having dangerous effects on wildlife populations. Sea turtles are just one species that are being affected by rising temperatures. Unlike humans, the sex of sea turtles is determined by environmental temperatures, which means that warmer nests are resulting in a higher percentage of female sea turtles.

Studies have also shown that moose experience heat stress when summer temperatures rise above the threshold for the season.

It is not a surprise that climate change is affecting polar bears, but warming temperatures are having an effect on female polar bear dens and their ability to produce and nurse cubs. Cubs need to spend adequate time in the snow den so that they are developed enough to survive harsh Arctic spring conditions, and emerge when there is an abundance of prey. A study showed that reproductive success was higher at land-based dens rather than those on the sea ice, suggesting that the continued decline in areas covered by sea ice could affect the survival of polar bear cubs.

Image credit: “Water Vole” by Peter Trimming. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Ecotourism

Although ecotourism can help to raise awareness of wildlife populations, it can also have severe negative effects on populations. A study conducted on two populations of penguins showed that those exposed to higher levels of tourism displayed changes indicative of chronic stress and decreased immune systems.

WWF argues that we are the last generation who can reverse these trends that are having such a negative impact on the natural world. Research into conservation and how species are adapting to survive in urban environments is a key step towards to living alongside the natural world and halting the destruction of valuable species.

Developments in urban ecology could allow us to better understand how rapid urbanization is affecting wildlife. By gaining a greater understanding of how urbanization changes the way urban species are evolving could lead to better models for sustainability and green cities that could potentially increase urban biodiversity and the health and wellbeing of the wildlife that inhabits them.

There is increasing consumer demand for products that do not damage wildlife, such as whale-safe products that avoid entangling endangered whales in fishing gear.

The population of water voles has been in steady decline due to habitat fragmentation. However, isolated grasslands in Glasgow, Scotland, have been the site of a new population of this endangered species. This unexpected habitat could provide key information for conservation of this species for the future.

Featured image credit: “Blue Marble – 2002” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *