7 PM Editorial |Decline Of Vertebrates: Major Causes|17th September 2020

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Decline Of Vertebrates: Major Causes

Topic: GS-3, Environment

Sub-Topic – Environment- Conservation

Overview – The loss of vertebrate population in India and its major reasons.


The Living Planet Report 2020 states that the world is steadily losing its vertebrate population. The Asia Pacific region lost 45 percent of its vertebrate population in four-and-half decades, while the global average is 68 per cent.

Living Planet Report 2020: It is prepared jointly by the World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London. It is based on the global dataset analysed between 1970 and 2016. The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives. The report tracked almost 21,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles globally to reach its conclusions — it showed the loss of vertebrate population was the highest in Caribbean and Latin America (94 per cent), followed by Africa (65 per cent) with Europe and central Asia showing the least loss (24 per cent).
Impact on India:

Experts, however, pointed out that at a gross scale, the impact may be severe in countries such as India that have significantly high biodiversity resources. However, WWF experts admitted that the lack of adequate data in India has made it difficult to exactly pinpoint the scale of loss in the country.

What is the status of the loss of vertebrates in India?
  1. India has lost 12 percent of its wild mammals, 19 percent amphibians and 3 percent birds over the last five decades.
  2. Out of about 1.02 lakh animal species, as found in India till December 2019, about 6,800 are vertebrates. Among these, nearly 550 fall in critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable categories.
  3. The vertebrate population has been declining at a rate of about 60 per centin India, a figure close to the global benchmark.
What are the factors for the decline?

The report pointed out five major reasons behind the decline in population of the vertebrates.

  1. Changes in land and sea use (habitat loss and degradation):
    1. Almost a third of Indian wetlandshave been affected under combined pressure of urbanisation, agricultural activities and pollution.
    2. Habitat fragmentation is often catering to creation of small population pockets of animals and leads to inbreeding; thus affecting the population’s viability.
    3. India has 4 percent global land share, about eight percent global biodiversityand around 16 percent global population. There is an enormous human footprint, which in turn is affecting biodiversity.
    4. India’s ecological footprint per person to be less than 1.6 global hectares(gha) / person (smaller than that of many large countries). However its high population size has made the gross footprint significantly high.
    5. India has a bio-capacityof approximately 0.45 gha per person, which means it is a ‘bio-capacity debtor’ or an ‘ecologically deficit country’ with a 148 per cent more demand than supply on its natural resources
  2. Overexploitation of species.
  3. Invasive species and disease.
  4. Pollution
    1. Habitat fragmentation and pollution, especially from pesticides and insecticides, are playing havoc with the biodiversity status of the country.
  5. Climate Change.

In the Asia Pacific region including India, habitat loss was the biggest trigger followed by species overexploitation, invasive species and disease. At the same time, the role of pollution and climate change was proportionately higher at 16 per cent.

  1. It may not be possible for union and state governments to declare the animal corridors as protected areas, but they may bring some laws and guidelines to prevent this gross habitat fragmentation.
  2. The reduction of forest cover in critical animal habitatsneeds to be stopped.

The WWF India factsheet also put up data to highlight how forest land has been diverted and has been affecting biodiversity. In the first six months of 2019, of the 240 proposals seeking diversion of forest land, 98.99 per cent of forest land considered for diversion was allowed to be put to non-forestry uses. This is leading to fragmentation of the habitats and biodiversity loss.

Source: Down to Earth

Mains Question:
  1. Discuss the impact of habitat loss on the biodiversity of India. Suggest measures to mitigate the issue.
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