Populations of Vertebrate Species Down 52 Percent Since 1970, Says Living Planet Index Report


Living Planet Index

Yesterday, the World Wildlife Fund activist group published its Living Planet Index 2014 report that calculates that the Earth is home to about half the number of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish) that it hosted in 1970. Let's be clear: The report is NOT saying that half of vertebrate species have gone extinct, but that the overall number of wild vertebrates have declined by half. The trend is calculated using a complicated system for weighting the declines in various vertebrate species populations. Interestingly, this report comes just two months after a study—"Defaunation in the Anthropocene," published in Science—reported:

Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25 percent average decline in abundance.

The comparable LPI terrestrial vertebrate figure is 39 percent since just 1970. 

In any case, the LPI parses data from 10,380 populations of 3,038 species out of an estimated 62,839 vertebrate species that have been described globally. From the report: 

The Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures trends in thousands of vertebrate species populations, shows a decline of 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010 (Figure 2). In other words, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago. This is a much bigger decrease than has been reported previously, as a result of a new methodology which aims to be more representative of global biodiversity.

Biodiversity is declining in both temperate and tropical regions, but the decline is greater in the tropics. The 6,569 populations of 1,606 species in the temperate LPI declined by 36 per cent from 1970 to 2010. The tropical LPI shows a 56 per cent reduction in 3,811 populations of 1,638 species over the same period. Latin America shows the most dramatic decline – a fall of 83 per cent. Habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing, are the primary causes of decline. Climate change is the next most common primary threat, and is likely to put more pressure on populations in the future.

The report also notes some countervailing population trends:

Even though slightly more populations are increasing than declining, the magnitude of the population decline is much greater than that of the increase, resulting in an overall reduction since 1970. 

The LPI finds that 37 percent of the population declines result from direct exploitation, e.g. overfishing; and 31.4 and 13.4 percent is from habitat degradation and destruction, e.g., cutting down tropical forests. 

Steep declines in animal populations have happened before. A 2008 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated that at the end of the last Ice Age human hunters so decimated the populations of large tasty critters that the total biomass of the world's terrestrial animals did not recover to its previous level until the Industrial Revolution. But then most of the recovered biomass consisted of human beings and our domesticated animals. By one estimate the world's farms and ranches harbor today about 1.4 billion cattle, 1.9 billion sheep and goats, 980 million pigs, and 19.6 billion chickens. 

Just two months ago, in my article "Predictions of a Man-Made Sixth Mass Extinction May Be Exaggerated," I argued that trends in population growth, reforestation, agricultural productivity,and urbanization all point in a more hopeful direction over the balance of this century with regard to protecting wild species. 

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  1. That is way too many FUCKING CHICKEN AND COW!!!!!

  2. “Steep declines in animal populations have happened before”

    Yeah – like during the Permian extinction about 250 million years ago when about 96% of all then living species were wiped out.

    And man has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    1. What an insight! You know that one of the major hypotheses for the cause of that extinction event involves some of the exact same runaway effects of climate change scientists are worried about today? I don’t see why it matters whether it was caused by microbes or humans. It happens to be the fault of humans this time.

      1. “It happens to be the fault of humans this time.”

        Not unless you can prove it to be so with literally and exactly the same level of definitiveness that I can prove that my car has 4 wheels attached to it.

        When it comes to proof of affirmative condition claims, there are only two categories: unequivocal and absolutely definitive proof or absolutely nothing.

        1. No, that’s not right at all. Not even a little. Not under any circumstance or by any scientific or logical or rational definition are there only two categories of certainty. You just made that up. It is so wrong it might be the wrongest thing anyone has ever said.

          1. “No, that’s not right at all”

            Since you are always wrong all the time in all circumstances, your claim serves as unequivocal and absolutely definitve proof that it is the rightest thing anyone has ever said.

            1. I’m beginning to understand how you landed in a place so completely divorced from reality. Not just a frighteningly strict inability to see gray areas, but a policy of disbelieving everything someone who doesn’t share your politics says.

              That would spell trouble if your opponent happened to be right about many things.

              1. “I’m beginning to understand ….”

                There you go being wrong again.

  3. “Populations of Vertebrate Species Down 52 Percent Since 1970”

    If you count the 99% decline in the backbones of the political class, its not as bad as it sounds at first.

  4. I suspect their numbers are BS. Here in North America many bird species are declining, but largely it’s due to aggressive competition from the damned sparrows and starling, which continue to increase. I see more deer in the woods now than I did 50 years ago and, since the prices for raw fur pelts have declined drastically, it is no longer unusual to see raccoons and red fox even in downtown Tulsa. So, just what is declining?

      1. And we have just awesome data on both how many fish there were in 1970, and how many there are now.

        What unmitiagated bullshit this report is.

        1. OF course it’s bullshit.

          But even if it wasn’t, who’s to say what the correct number is supposed to be?

        2. There will always be a faction that starts measuring things with greater accuracy and becomes alarmed when the greater accuracy raises alarms. Who gave a shit about single parts per billion of even the most toxic molecules 25 years ago when we could only measure parts per million or parts per 10 million. Is the water that was clean to our limits of detection toxic now? Probably not.

    1. Especially coming from the World Wildlife Fund, which is kind of like the ecological version of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  5. Humans are #1 vertebrate!

    1. There can only be one.

  6. The number of single women with dogs, however, still increases geometrically.

  7. So that’s a good thing, right?

    ‘Cause vertebrates exhale CO2, and we all know what CO2 does!

  8. HIDE THE DECLINE! Anyway, aren’t humans just as much a part of nature as any other species? Isn’t a Walmart parking lot just as natural as a beehive? Let’s end species exceptionalism. Why should we mollycoddle the Polar bear?

    1. “Isn’t a Walmart parking lot just as natural as a beehive?”


      And Hoover Dam is just as natural as a beaver dam.

  9. What is the “proper” population of these animals and why?

  10. Ron, does the LPI report break down the declines in each population (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish)? My guess is that fish represent the greatest population, with birds a fairly distant second. They may be able to gather a decent estimate of bird population, but I would have doubts on fish population estimates.

  11. We had a much, much greater number and variety of species during our warmer eras. So, clearly, what we need for greater biodiversity is a warming trend. Therefore, time to turn up the heat.

  12. I’m not sure how hopeful that direction is for various species. In a study just released a few weeks ago in Conservation Biology, it doesn’t sound so positive.

    “Thus, current extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than natural background rates of extinction and future rates are likely to be 10,000 times higher.”


    Heck, even FOX covered it:


    1. We’re doubtless doing a lot better than the “natural rate of extinction” that existed when that asteriod “naturally” wiped out all of the dinosaurs or when all the various ice ages “naturally” wiped out lots of species.

      1. Doubtless. And better than the apocalypse is good enough!

  13. Populations of Vertebrate Species Down 52 Percent Since 1970, Says Living Planet Index Report

    Yes, they were all very tasty.

  14. I’m amazed that they can even narrow down the species loss to (2) significant figures of precision seeing that there are many species we are either discovering on a daily bases or have yet to catalogue living in the oceans.

    1. That is exactly what I said in the Examiner.com facebook page and some child-left-behind told me I was a “tool”.

  15. Where are the corpses?

    Interesting read. And mostly agrees that the mass extinctions are BS.

  16. Why does Reason think that “science” consists of press releases from climate crazies, tree huggers, and alarmist bunny counters?

    1. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t read.

  17. These pseudo-science, drama-queen indices are completely incomprehensible to the NPR-listening chattering class, but they will help to coordinate emotive, circle-jerk sessions. Not one in a thousand bien-pensant power suckups will have any clue as to what it really means to mix all sorts of non-comparables ? what does it mean to add a poorly-measured count of some sub-species of fish with a better-measured count of elephants? And then to exclude some twenty times the number of species not on the list of “things to count”? And then what does a 50-percent decline in this wonder-aggregate really mean? Better counting? Worsening of habitats? Desire to come up with a relevant and eye-catching statistic?

    Here’s a bet: Various real academic ecologists will cough and roll their eyes and complain about such scandal-mongering and misrepresentations, but in the end will be ignored by the lewinsky press. After all, “experts say” is a trump card in the public-relations game.

  18. I remember reading that vertebrate species only account for about 5% of the animal population (yes, invertebrates are animals too). So color me less than worried.

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