HALTING THE EXTINCTION CRISIS
Our planet now faces a global extinction crisis never witnessed by humankind. Scientists predict that more than 1 million species are on track for extinction in the coming decades.
But there’s still time to halt this crisis — and we need your help. By taking part in our Saving Life on Earth campaign, you can help build a coast-to-coast network to ensure the United States is a leader in saving the world’s biodiversity.You can also read our plan to confront this emergency. It’s full of bold, life-changing initiatives including a call for a $100-billion investment in endangered species and the creation of 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries.
Why Is This So Important?
Each time species goes extinct, the world around us unravels a bit. The consequences are profound, not just in those places and for those species but for all of us. These are tangible consequential losses, such as crop pollination and water purification, but also spiritual and cultural ones.
Although often obscured by the noise and rush of modern life, people retain deep emotional connections to the wild world. Wildlife and plants have inspired our histories, mythologies, languages and how we view the world. The presence of wildlife brings joy and enriches us all — and each extinction makes our home a lonelier and colder place for us and future generations.
The current extinction crisis is entirely of our own making. More than a century of habitat destruction, pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, climate change, population growth and other human activities have pushed nature to the brink. Addressing the extinction crisis will require leadership — especially from the United States — alongside bold, courageous, far-reaching initiatives that attack this emergency at its root.
Join us in our fight against extinction.
Every Taxon Is in Trouble
No group of animals has a higher rate of endangerment than amphibians. Scientists estimate that a third or more of all the roughly 6,300 known species of amphibians are at risk of extinction .
Frogs, toads, and salamanders are disappearing because of habitat loss, water and air pollution, climate change, ultraviolet light exposure, introduced exotic species, and disease. Because of their sensitivity to environmental changes, vanishing amphibians should be viewed as the canary in the global coal mine, signaling subtle yet radical ecosystem changes that could ultimately claim many other species, including humans.
Birds occur in nearly every habitat on the planet and are often the most visible and familiar wildlife to people across the globe. As such, they provide an important bellwether for tracking changes to the biosphere. Declining bird populations across most to all habitats confirm that profound changes are occurring on our planet in response to human activities.
A 2009 report on the state of birds in the United States found that 251 (31 percent) of the 800 species in the country are of conservation concern . Globally, BirdLife International estimates that 12 percent of known 9,865 bird species are now considered threatened, with 192 species, or 2 percent, facing an “extremely high risk” of extinction in the wild — two more species than in 2008. Habitat loss and degradation have caused most of the bird declines, but the impacts of invasive species and capture by collectors play a big role, too.
Increasing demand for water, the damming of rivers throughout the world, the dumping and accumulation of various pollutants, and invasive species make aquatic ecosystems some of the most threatened on the planet; thus, it's not surprising that there are many fish species that are endangered in both freshwater and marine habitats.
The American Fisheries Society identified 700 species of freshwater or anadromous fish in North America as being imperiled, amounting to 39 percent of all such fish on the continent . In North American marine waters, at least 82 fish species are imperiled. Across the globe, 1,851 species of fish — 21 percent of all fish species evaluated — were deemed at risk of extinction by the IUCN in 2010, including more than a third of sharks and rays.
Invertebrates, from butterflies to mollusks to earthworms to corals, are vastly diverse — and though no one knows just how many invertebrate species exist, they're estimated to account for about 97 percent of the total species of animals on Earth . Of the 1.3 million known invertebrate species, the IUCN has evaluated about 9,526 species, with about 30 percent of the species evaluated at risk of extinction. Freshwater invertebrates are severely threatened by water pollution, groundwater withdrawal, and water projects, while a large number of invertebrates of notable scientific significance have become either endangered or extinct due to deforestation, especially because of the rapid destruction of tropical rainforests. In the ocean, reef-building corals are declining at an alarming rate: 2008's first-ever comprehensive global assessment of these animals revealed that a third of reef-building corals are threatened.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the present extinction crisis is the fact that the majority of our closest relatives — the primates — are severely endangered. About 90 percent of primates — the group that contains monkeys, lemurs, lorids, galagos, tarsiers, and apes (as well as humans) — live in tropical forests, which are fast disappearing. The IUCN estimates that almost 50 percent of the world's primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe's 5,491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1,131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. In addition to primates, marine mammals — including several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises — are among those mammals slipping most quickly toward extinction.
Through photosynthesis, plants provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat and are thus the foundation of most life on Earth. They're also the source of a majority of medicines in use today. Of the more than 300,000 known species of plants, the IUCN has evaluated only 12,914 species, finding that about 68 percent of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction.
Unlike animals, plants can't readily move as their habitat is destroyed, making them particularly vulnerable to extinction. Indeed, one study found that habitat destruction leads to an “extinction debt,” whereby plants that appear dominant will disappear over time because they aren't able to disperse to new habitat patches . Global warming is likely to substantially exacerbate this problem. Already, scientists say, warming temperatures are causing quick and dramatic changes in the range and distribution of plants around the world. With plants making up the backbone of ecosystems and the base of the food chain, that's very bad news for all species, which depend on plants for food, shelter, and survival.
Globally, 21 percent of the total evaluated reptiles in the world are deemed endangered or vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN — 594 species — while in the United States, 32 reptile species are at risk, about 9 percent of the total. Island reptile species have been dealt the hardest blow, with at least 28 island reptiles having died out since 1600. But scientists say that island-style extinctions are creeping onto the mainlands because human activities fragment continental habitats, creating “virtual islands” as they isolate species from one another, preventing interbreeding and hindering populations' health. The main threats to reptiles are habitat destruction and the invasion of nonnative species, which prey on reptiles and compete with them for habitat and food.