Three quarters of the world’s threatened species are imperiled because people are converting their habitat into agricultural lands and overharvesting their populations. 72 percent of species are imperiled by overexploitation (the harvesting of species from the wild at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth), while 62 percent of species are imperiled by agricultural activity (the production of food, fodder, fiber and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees). In comparison, 19 percent are considered threatened by climate change.
There are 5,407 species threatened by agriculture alone, according to the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Illegal hunting is decimating populations of all rhinoceros and elephant species, western gorilla and Chinese pangolin. Other threats are affecting substantially fewer species, for example hooded seals being threatened by climate change. Climate change is ranked 7th among 11 threats.
Addressing overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis. This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda. Government and society must focus on proposing and funding actions that deal with the biggest current threats to biodiversity.
History has taught us that minimizing impacts from overharvesting and agriculture requires a variety of conservation actions, but these can be achieved. Actions such as well managed protected areas, enforcement of hunting regulations, and managing agricultural systems in ways that allow threatened species to persist within them, all have a major role to play in reducing the biodiversity crisis. These activities need to be well funded and prioritized in areas that will reduce threat, according to scientists.
While overharvesting and agricultural activities are currently the predominant threats to species, this may change in the coming decades. Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis, but climate change could become an increasingly dominant threat for species.
Thankfully, those actions that best reduce current threats such as unsustainable use, habitat destruction, and invasive species are also the best solutions in responding to the challenges of rapid climate change.