Andrew Carter and Lindsay Rosa

Losing Biodiversity

The stomach-turning reality is that one million species worldwide are at risk of extinction in the coming decades if we do not take action now to address the biodiversity crisis. A loss of that magnitude will have unimaginable negative consequences not just for the species themselves but for our own health and well-being.  

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the richness of all life on earth - every species and interaction throughout history that make up the varied and wondrous ecosystems that we all rely on - and it is currently disappearing before our very eyes. Never before in human history has there been such a rapid rate of extinction.  

Declining Biodiversity

For perspective: three billion birds have disappeared from North America since 1970 and beetles have declined in the United States by 83 percent over the last 40 years. Forty-one percent of U.S. ecosystems are already at risk of range-wide collapse and in 2020, the World Economic Forum found that biodiversity loss is one of the top threats to the global economy.  

2015.3.18 - Greater Sage Grouse - Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge - Wyoming - Tom Koerner - FWS
Tom Koerner/FWS

What Threatens Biodiversity?

So what’s causing this biodiversity crisis? Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation of species and invasive species have been identified as the five major threats to biodiversity, globally.  

Climate change

Climate change is shifting ecosystems, the services they provide, and the imperiled species they support,  threatening their continued health and survival. For example: melting ice is cutting off polar bear access to critical food sources and warming waters contribute to the disappearance of coral reefs. Climate change can also exacerbate droughts, drying out the habitats of species like the Sonoyta mud turtle. These are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg when it comes to the detrimental and irreversable affects climate change might have.  

Overexploitation of species

Humans have a long history of overhunting species to the point of extinction. In the 17th and 18th century the dodo and Steller’s sea cow were hunted out of existence and many know the story of how the passenger pigeon went from the most abundant bird in North America to disappearing forever in 1914 due to large-scale harvesting. Many don’t realize, however, that the iconic southern sea otter nearly met the same fate, and now only occupy 13 percent of their historical range. Nearly a fifth of all Endangered Species Act-listed species are at risk of overexploitation.  

2014.07.26 - Southern Sea Otter - California - Lilian Carswell-USFWS
Lilian Carswell/USFWS


Air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution among others are all ubiquitous across the globe and nature is paying the price. A startling statistic underscoring the wide-reaching affects of pollution is that more than 430 species at the time of their listing under the Endangered Species Act were described as being significantly impacted by pollution. Marine plastic pollution alone has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species, including sea turtles, seabirds, and many marine mammals. 

Habitat loss

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 1,621,629 square miles of forest habitat has been lost since the 1990’s. Habitat loss in general is estimated at two football fields per minute. Eighty percent of Endangered Species Act-listed species are impacted by habitat loss.  

Invasive Species

Invasive species have been a factor in the decline of more than 40 percent of species listed under the Endangered Species Act and can cause damages on average of $20 billion per year in the US. Many of the other drivers of the biodiversity crisis have allowed nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface to be at risk of invasion from non-native species. Invasive species are expected to increase by 40 percent by 2050.  

2006.07.16 - Bullfrog Among the Lily Pads - Munsel Lake - Florence - Oregon - Kevin Clark
Kevin Clark Photography

Conservation of Biodiversity

Addressing these drivers is how we conserve what’s left and avoid losing all those species.  

One huge opportunity to address all five drivers of the biodiversity crisis that Defenders of Wildlife is advocating for is the development of a National Biodiversity Strategy. A national biodiversity strategy would make addressing the biodiversity crisis a national priority and require more effective and better coordinated use of existing laws and policies to protect biodiversity and reverse its decline.  


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Andrew Carter

Andrew Carter

Director of Conservation Policy
Andrew works on wildlife conservation policy at the Center for Conservation Innovation, where he researches and analyzes conservation governance strategies and emerging policy issues, and works with other CCI members to develop innovative approaches to habitat and species protection.
Lindsay Rosa headshot

Lindsay Rosa

Vice President of Conservation Research and Innovation
Dr. Lindsay Rosa oversees Defenders of Wildlife's Center for Conservation Innovation, where science, technology, and policy teams work together to find creative and pragmatic conservation solutions.

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