by Carole Jorgensen
Audubon shared the recent dire study showing that 3 billion birds have declined since 1970, almost 30 percent of the North American bird population (https://science.org/content/article/three-billion-north-american-birds-have-vanished-1970-surveys-show). Some of the reasons given were habitat loss due to development, changing climate and weather patterns, pesticides and even cats, although the reasons are complex and each species and group of species vary in their population changes.
A further dire study has been released addressing a similar decline in biodiversity of vertebrates worldwide. Monitoring wild critters is a messy, difficult, expensive and very incomplete challenge. The Living Planet index (https://livingplanetindex.org/) is an evaluation of vertebrate species conducted every two years, using the best scientific data available (including that collected by citizen scientists like Audubon members). The study is a collaboration by 89 authors around the world in partnership with WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and the Zoological Society of London.
The Living Planet Index found a 69 percent decline in analyzed 5,320 monitored mammals, birds, reptiles and mammals since 1970. No invertebrates (which are the largest biological group on earth) were evaluated. The North American portion exhibited a 20 percent decline, although Latin America and the Caribbean declined 94 percent. Scientists fear the lack of similar monitoring of amphibians and invertebrates would make the declines even more troubling if data were available.
What to do? Educate yourself and others on this news and how you can help. Continue to support population monitoring for all species and participate in citizen science programs where possible. Support sustainable energy and reduced carbon. Choose local foods and sustainable agriculture, avoiding monocultures like palm oil. Provide as much native habitat as you can in your own neighborhood and beyond: shrubs, trees, native prairie, wetlands and dead and down wood. Avoid pesticides. Seek support from local and national legislators for land conservation; habitat protection and restoration; support for research and monitoring. We all can make a difference!