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A new analysis has found that of all 14,669 European plant and animal species registered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species by the end of 2020, a fifth face the risk of extinction.
The researchers also identified that the greatest threat associated with declining biodiversity in Europe is changes in agricultural land use, leading to habitat loss and overexploitation of biological resources, according to a study press release published Wednesday in the journal Plos One.
“We thought it would be good to combine all this data to see… what are the main threats? What are the areas where species are most at risk of extinction? “We thought it would be a good idea to combine all this data to see… what are the main threats? What are the areas where species are most at risk of extinction? Because only if we know the threats, can we do something about it.”
Hochkirch said that the IUCN Red List is considered the most comprehensive global source of information on threatened species and extinction, and Europe has the largest number of data listed among all regions represented in the index. Europe’s thousands of red-listed species represent nearly 10% of the continent’s total biodiversity, according to the paper.
The index classifies species as Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered and Extinct. In their analysis, the researchers found that 19% of all Red List species found in Europe — including 27% of plants, 24% of invertebrates, and 18% of vertebrates — are “at risk of extinction.”
Species at risk can be found under the vulnerable, threatened or endangered categories on the Red List.
“One of the most interesting findings of the study is that plants and invertebrates are more vulnerable to extinction than vertebrates,” Gerardo Ceballos, a professor at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and one of the world’s leading ecologists, said in an email. . Ceballos was not involved in the study.
A global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES, in 2019 estimated that – based on the “sparse data” available on insects – 10% of all insects worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to the assessment. the new. Stady. But Hochkirch and his team found more than twice that number of invertebrates at risk in Europe.
It is estimated that 95% of the world’s animals are invertebrates, and 73% of them are insects, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
IPBES initially estimated that one million plant and animal species worldwide were at risk of extinction, including about half a million insect species, based on inferences from Red List data. Hochkirch said the data on invertebrates provided by the new analysis indicates that the number of threatened species globally is actually close to two million.
“This is an interesting study that shows once again that the extinction crisis is more severe than previously thought,” Ceballos said.
Besides agricultural land use, the analysis found several other major threats to Europe’s biodiversity, including pollution, climate change, extreme weather, invasive species, and residential and commercial development.
Dr David Williams, lecturer in sustainability and environment at the University of Leeds in the UK, said the analysis reinforces the greater impact of agriculture on global biodiversity. He did not participate in the study.
“Agriculture primarily threatens biodiversity through the expansion and intensification of natural habitats (increasing productivity). The problem is that we cannot reduce expansion and reduce densification simultaneously, because doing either (let alone both) “It will reduce the amount of food produced.”
“So what should Europe do? How can we protect the region’s biodiversity without shifting the biodiversity cost of our food production offshore? It’s a very obvious next question,” he said. Williams was the lead author of a 2020 study that found nearly 90% of wild animals It could be affected by habitat loss by 2050 due to growing agriculture.
Hochkirch said he hopes the analysis will spur more conservation action on insects and other endangered species in Europe.