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One fifth of all European endangered species may vanish 

A significant number of Europe’s plants and animals are edging closer to disappearance. A new study indicates that around 20 percent of the species on the European Red List are threatened with extinction. This includes a surprising array of invertebrates whose risk of dying out is much greater than previously estimated.

Focus of the study 

The research was led by Axel Hochkirch of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Luxembourg. The team analyzed 14,669 species, which represent approximately 10 percent of all known terrestrial, freshwater, and marine flora and fauna in Europe. 

This exhaustive review was based on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, a key resource for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species globally.

European Red List 

“In Europe, taxonomic coverage of the IUCN Red List is more extensive than in other parts of the world, as the European Commission has funded European Red List assessments of thousands of species from a wide variety of taxonomic groups since 2006,” wrote the researchers.

“These include all vertebrates (amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles), functionally important invertebrate groups (all bees, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, bush-crickets, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, and a selection of saproxylic beetles) and about 12 percent of the known plant species in Europe (including all ferns and lycopods, orchids, trees, aquatic plants and bryophytes, as well as selected shrubs, medicinal plants, priority crop wild relatives, and plants listed in policy instruments).”

What the researchers learned 

Alarmingly, the researchers found that 27 percent of plant species, 24 percent of invertebrates, and 18 percent of vertebrates included in the study are on the brink of extinction. 

Invertebrates, often overlooked in conservation efforts, appear to be more imperiled than was previously thought, as highlighted by the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Greater extinction risk

“These numbers exceed recent IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) assumptions of extinction risk,” wrote the study authors. 

“Changes in agricultural practices and associated habitat loss, overharvesting, pollution and development are major threats to biodiversity. Maintaining and restoring sustainable land and water use practices is crucial to minimize future biodiversity declines.”

Call to action

The study is not just a call to alarm but a call to action. The researchers emphasize the need for increased conservation action, recognizing the crucial role of biodiversity in food security, wealth generation, and overall well-being in Europe.

Further investigation into specific threats and effective conservation strategies is imperative, according to the research team. Such work is vital to guide and measure the success of initiatives aiming to curb the loss of biodiversity.

Study implications 

“Biodiversity loss is a major global challenge and minimizing extinction rates is the goal of several multilateral environmental agreements. Policy decisions require comprehensive, spatially explicit information on species’ distributions and threats,” wrote the study authors. 

“This comprehensive analysis of 14,669 continental Red List assessments for European animal and plant species suggests that 2 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. This result doubles the latest IPBES assumption of 1 million threatened species.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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