Mass Extinction Of Species Could Prove Harmful To Humans

Brett Smith for

Plants and animals, both wild and domestic, are inextricably linked and any mass extinction of species would be catastrophic for life around the world, including humans.

That´s the underlying theme in the newest update to the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released Tuesday at the Rio+20 conference. The report showed that “of the 63,837 species assessed, 19,817 are threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 33% of reef building corals, 25% of mammals, 13% of birds, and 30% of conifers.”

“Sustainability is a matter of life and death for people on the planet,” said IUCN director Julia Marton-Lefèvre, reports CNN‘s Matthew Knight. “A sustainable future cannot be achieved without conserving biological diversity – animal and plant species, their habitats and their genes – not only for nature itself, but also for all 7 billion people who depend on it. The latest IUCN Red List is a clarion call to world leaders gathering in Rio to secure the web of life on this planet.”

The report also points out that while developed countries rely on domesticated species for their dietary needs, many people still depend on wild species for survival. For example, more than 275 million people are dependent on coral reefs for food, coastal protection and their livelihoods, according to the IUCN. The reef fishing industry is worth $6.8 billion annually but its sustainability is threatened by overfishing that affects over half of the world’s reefs.

“The services and economic value that species provide are irreplaceable and essential to our well being,” Jon Paul Rodríguez, deputy chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in a statement.

“Unless we live within the limits set by nature, and manage our natural resources sustainably, more and more species will be driven towards extinction. If we ignore our responsibility we will compromise our own survival,” he added

Other parts of the report highlight the delicate interplay between humans and wild species. At least one third of the world´s food production depends on pollination carried out by insects, bats and birds. It is estimated that the ℠service´ these players in the ecosystem provide is worth over $200 billion per year. According to the IUCN Red List, 16 percent of Europe´s more prevalent butterflies are threatened, while 18 percent bats are threatened globally.

In speaking at a Rio+20 press conference, Jane Smart, the Director of the IUCN Global Species Program, said the Red List can be used as a tool for both scientists and policy makers.

“It gives us a lot of information on the threats to individual species and it also tells us about the action we can take to tackle those threats,” she said. “It´s a goldmine sitting under the IUCN Red List.”

Using the Red List, “a policymaker will be able to (make) a decision in a particular context, knowing exactly–what is the status of the species or many species in that area that he has to contend with,” added Cyrie Sendashonga the IUCN Director for Program and Policy.

Speaking at the same event, Rodriguez pointed out that while the Red List is a fairly comprehensive assessment of the state of biodiversity–there is still a lot to learn.

“The most endangered species in the world is probably one that hasn´t been described, that is an insect or an invertebrate and that is on the edge of some place that is being deforested at this point,” he said.

“So I think that there´s still so much that we need to know and many of those (unknown species) are probably among the most endangered species.”