Forest wildlife populations decline 53% since 1970

New WWF report details multiple threats to forest-dwelling species

Measuring forest populations

Remarkably, we know relatively little about real changes to the species that live in our forests at a global level. The Below the Canopy report is the world’s first-ever global assessment of forest-living species populations. By focusing on species that depend entirely on forests, it provides an accurate representation of forest ecosystem health. Using the methodology of WWF’s Living Planet Report, scientists monitored populations of forest-living birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles to determine that populations on average, declined by 53% between 1970 and 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. Most of this loss is occurring in the tropics, where there is most wildlife to lose.

It’s nothing short of a planetary emergency. The first-ever global assessment of forest biodiversity shows forest-dwelling wildlife populations have declined on average by 53% in the last five decades. The greatest of these losses occurred in tropical forests, such as the Amazon, where the highest number of forest species live.

The impact of this staggering loss goes beyond wildlife. The health of forest species is intrinsically linked to the health of forests overall--and the health of people and the planet.

Forests are home to more than half of land-based species—all who provide essential functions, such as pollinating and dispersing seeds, to keep forests healthy.

When forests are healthy, they help purify our air and water, prevent floods, provide people with food and jobs, and so much more. They also store and absorb carbon. Vitally, these carbon sinks help shield the planet against the effects of climate change.

If we are to reverse the decline in biodiversity worldwide and avoid a climate crisis, we need to safeguard forests and the species that live in them.

To do so it is necessary to understand the many threats to forests and the species that live within them. Deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, unsustainable hunting, invasive species, climate change, and disease all put them at risk, according to WWF’s Below the Canopy report. Habitat loss and forest degradation alone--primarily caused by human activity--are the cause of 60% of the threats to forests and forest species.

WWF’s report also shares hopeful conservation success stories, including those related to monkeys in Costa Rica and gorillas in central and east Africa, noting that with the right solutions, forest-dwelling species can recover and thrive again.

Everyone can help protect and restore forests, but there is no time to waste. Global leaders must take action now to stop climate breakdown, safeguard our planet’s remaining natural spaces, and make our consumption and production model more sustainable. Consumers can make more informed choices like choosing forest-based products, from paper products to furniture, with the FSC label.