Everyday Citizens Can Help Fight Biodiversity Loss

Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)
The Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2007 after the Western Lowland Gorilla (G. g. gorilla) subspecies, suffered a population decline of more than 60% since the early 1980s. Hunting and deaths caused by Ebola were the main causes of this decline and both these threats continue to affect the Western Lowland Gorilla population. An investigation of Ebola outbreaks has revealed that if this disease continues at its current rate and trajectory, then the Western Lowland Gorilla abundance in all current protected areas could decline by 45% between 1992 and 2011. The Western Lowland Gorilla makes up most of the current Western Gorilla population. The other subspecies, Cross River Gorilla (G. g. diehli), was first listed as Critically Endangered in 1996. With fewer than 200 mature adults remaining in this population and ongoing habitat loss, it is still a highly threatened subspecies and remains in the Critically Endangered category. Photo © M. Watson / www.ardea.com. Photo provided by ARKive.

Global warming is undermining the planet’s biological diversity by altering the timing of animal migrations, shifting species toward the poles and higher altitudes, and speeding habitat loss, according to the Worldwatch Institute, which released its annual Vital Signs report of global trends yesterday. But the number-one cause of species decline is still habitat destruction and degradation from forest clearing, pollution, and other direct human activities, says the Switzerland-based World Conservation Union (IUCN). Fortunately, we can all take action in our everyday lives to help save disappearing species, participants from IUCN and other organizations noted at the launch of the group’s 2007 Red List of Threatened Species in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

While the rapid decline of great apes such as the Western lowland gorilla—which has lost 60 percent of its population in the last 20 to 25 years—often grabs headlines, not everyone comes into daily contact with large wildlife, observed Dr. Bruce Stein, vice president and chief scientist for the nonprofit conservation organization NatureServe. Stein suggested that each of us, regardless of where we live, take a closer look at the biodiversity in our own regions instead. People should do their best to reduce impacts on ecosystems from fertilizing their lawns, disposing of used motor oil, and other daily activities, he said. And prospective homeowners and developers should consider trying to meet guidelines like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Neighborhood Development criteria, which include specific requirements for protecting imperiled species.

Dr. Russell Mittermeier, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, agreed that it is important to “reduce consumption in your own backyard,” but stressed that people can help save species in far-off locations as well. He recommended that travelers take “ecotourism” trips, which—if done right—often have the added benefit of providing funding and publicity for conservation projects. “Don’t underestimate the impact of your 10 or 20 dollar tip on a local guide in Madagascar,” Mittermeier explained. He said that while donating to groups like IUCN is important, having a personal connection to threatened and endangered species can be even more critical.

Another participant at the Red List launch, Dr. Jane Smart, the head of IUCN’s Species Programme, observed that given the relatively low commitment among governments to biodiversity preservation, everyday citizens can play an important role in encouraging their representatives to pay more attention to imperiled species. People can also help raise awareness of the vital connections between biodiversity and human quality of life, Smart noted. Not only do healthy ecosystems provide clean air and water, she explained, but many of us are unaware of the importance of “keystone species”—species that are so critical to an ecosystem’s functioning that their disappearance can cause collapse of the entire ecosystem. “Our lives are inextricably linked with biodiversity, and ultimately its protection is essential for our very survival,” she said.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.