Worldwatch Paper #141: Losing Strands in the Web of Life: Vertebrate Declines and the Conservation of Biological Diversity

May 1998
John Tuxill
ISBN: 1-878071-43-2
88 pages

One of the clearest ways to judge how we are affecting the Earth's biological life-support systems is to examine the status of those organisms closest to ourselves-the 50,000 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Currently, about one in every four of these vertebrate animals is in serious trouble-either declining strongly, or restricted to small populations, or already threatened with extinction.

Most vertebrates are in trouble because the ecological communities to which they belong are being dismantled by habitat loss, overhunting, and invasions of non-native species-problems that stem from humankind's mistreatment of the natural world. In this Paper, John Tuxill examines the challenges to survival that vertebrate species face, and what their fate foretells for our planet's biological diversity.

Many options exist for maintaining the ecological systems vertebrates depend on, from controlling invasive species to improving management of national parks and protected areas. But these actions will succeed only if countries manage their forests, waterways, farmlands, and other natural resources in ecologically sound and socially equitable ways. We all depend on the Earth's biological endowment for our food, medicine, and material well-being, and we all have a part to play in its preservation. Conserving biological diversity means controlling our numbers, transforming our consumption patterns, and re-shaping our globalizing economies.