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AS the world faces an increase of 1 degree Celsius to 1.5°C global warming by year 2030, the number of Earth’s life forms threatened with extinction has increased, the world’s global watchdog of flora and fauna, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said in its September 2018 report.
In its latest Red List, the IUCN said an additional 26,000 species are threatened with extinction today, out of the 27 percent of all assessed species worldwide.
Of the number, 41 percent are amphibians, 5 percent mammals, 34 percent conifers, 13 percent birds, 31 percent sharks and manta rays, 33 percent corals and 27 percent selected crustaceans.
The IUCN Red List is the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the extinction risk of plant and animal species that started in the 1950s as a card index of species that were considered to be threatened with extinction.
Over time, the Red Data Books grew and transformed into the Red List to include more species. The ethos of the program also shifted to incorporate the status of all species, not limiting it to only those threatened with extinction.
Today, the IUCN Red List, regarded as the most influential source of information for species conservation in the world, holds conservation information for over 93,500 species of plants, animals and fungi, with a mission to increase the list to 160,000 species by 2020.
Biodiversity hot spots around the world
THERE are 35 biodiversity hot spots in the world where these threatened life species are located. These areas compose 2.3 percent of the Earth’s surface but have more than half of the world’s endemic plant species.
These are in the California Floristic province, Madrean Pine Oak Woodlands, Mesoamerica of North and Central America; Caribbean Islands; Atlantic Forest, Cerrado, Chilean Winter Rainfall Valdivian Forest, Tumbes Choco Magdalena and Tropical Andes in South America;
Mediterranean Basin in Europe; Cape Floristic Region, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Eastern Afromontane, Guinean Forests of West Africa, Horn of Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands, Maputuland Pondoland Albany, Succulent Karoo in Africa; Mountains of Central Asia; Eastern Himalayas, Nepal, India, Indo-Burma, India and Myanmar, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka in South Asia;
East Melanesian Islands, Philippines, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Polynesia-Micronesia, Eastern Australian Temperate Forests, Southwest Australia, Sundaland and Nicobar Islands of India, Wallacea all in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific; Japan, Mountains of Southwest China in East Asia; Caucasus and Irano-Anatolian in East Asia.
These are considered hot spots because they are biogeographic regions with significant reservoir of biodiversity but threatened with destruction.
The purpose of biodiversity hot spots is not simply to identify regions that are of high biodiversity value, but to prioritize conservation spending.
Culprits behind ugly face of extinction
THE worst threat endangering biodiversity in the global hot spots is internal—citizen-initiated, aggressive, relentless, unethical to a point, God-less—destruction of habitat. As if the future does not matter.
Man has begun to overuse or misuse most of these natural ecosystems. Due to this “unsustainable” resource-use, the once productive forests and grasslands have been turned into deserts and wasteland have increased all over the world.
Mangroves have been cleared for fuelwood and prawn farming, which has led to a decrease in the habitat essential for breeding of marine fish.
Wetlands have been drained to increase agricultural land. These changes have grave economic implications in the longer term.
The current destruction of the remaining large areas of wilderness habitats, especially in the super diverse tropical forests and coral reefs, is the most important threat worldwide to biodiversity.
Scientists have estimated that human activities are likely to eliminate approximately 10 million species by the year 2050.
There are about 1.8 million species of plants and animals, both large and microscopic, known to science in the world at present.
The number of species, however, is likely to be greater by a factor of at least 10. Plants and insects, as well as other forms of life not known to science, are continually being identified in the worlds’ hot spots of diversity.
Unfortunately at the present rate of extinction, about 25 percent of the worlds’ species will undergo extinction fairly rapidly. This may occur at the rate of 10,000 to 20,000 species per year, 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the expected natural rate!
Human actions could well exterminate 25 percent of the world’s species within the next 20 years or 30 years.
Much of this mega extinction spasm is related to human population growth, industrialization and changes in land-use patterns.
A major part of these extinctions will occur in “biorich” areas—such as tropical forests, wetlands and coral reefs. The loss of wild habitats due to rapid human population growth and short-term economic development are major contributors to the rapid global destruction of biodiversity.
Philippines, 18th most endangered biodiversity hot spot
THE Philippines—the world’s second-largest archipelago—is one of the few nations that is, in its entirety, both a hot spot and a megadiversity country, placing it among the top priority hot spots for global conservation.
But its unique biodiversity is threatened. Having the highest rates of discovery in the world with 16 new species of mammals discovered in the last 10 years, such endemism, however, may be lost faster than discovered.
Threatened are 9,250 vascular plant species, which includes gingers, begonias, gesneriads, orchids, pandans, palms and dipterocarps. Some 150 species of palms are included on the hot spot list and 70 percent of the 1,000 species of orchids found in the country.
Among its over 530 bird species, 35 percent or over 60 are threatened. These are found in seven Endemic Bird Area hot spots: Mindoro, Luzon, Negros and Panay, Cebu, Mindanao and the Eastern Visayas, the Sulu archipelago and Palawan.
The best-known endangered bird species is the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi, CR), the second-largest eagle in the world.
The Philippine eagle breeds only in primary lowland rain forest. Habitat destruction has extirpated the eagle everywhere, except on the islands of Luzon, Mindanao and Samar, where the only large tracts of lowland rain forest remain.
Today, the Philippine eagle’s total population is estimated at less than 700 individuals. Captive breeding programs have been largely unsuccessful; habitat protection is the eagle’s only hope for survival.
The other threatened endemic species are the Negros bleeding heart (Gallicolumba keayi, CR), Visayan wrinkled hornbill (Aceros waldeni, CR), scarlet-collared flowerpecker (Dicaeum retrocinctum, VU), Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor, CR), and Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia, CR).
With regards mammals, the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis, CR), a dwarf water buffalo that lives only on Mindoro Island, is the most threatened. A century ago the population was10,000 individuals; today only a few hundred animals exist in the wild.
Other mammals are endangered, like the Visayan and Philippine warty pigs (Sus cebifrons, CR and S. philippensis, VU); the Calamianes hog-deer (Axis calamaniensis, EN) and the Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi, EN), which has been reduced to a few hundreds on the islands of Negros, Masbate and Panay; and the golden-capped fruit bat (Acerodon jubatus, EN), which, as the world’s largest bat, has a wingspan up to 1.7 meters.
In the reptilian world, the freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis, CR) is considered the most threatened crocodilian in the world. Other unique and threatened reptiles include Gray’s monitor (Varanus olivaceus, VU), the Philippine pond turtle (Heosemys leytensis, CR) and a newly discovered monitor lizard, Varanus mabitang, only the second monitor species known in the world to specialize on a fruit diet.
Among all amphibians, 22 are considered threatened, including the Philippine flat-headed frog (Barbourula busuangensis, VU), one of the world’s most primitive frog species.
With regards freshwater fishes, most threatened is Sardinella tawilis, a freshwater sardine found only in Taal Lake. Sadly, Lake Lanao, in Mindanao, seems likely to have become the site of one of the hot spots’ worst extinction catastrophes, with nearly all of the lake’s endemic fish species now almost certainly extinct.
Destruction of forests but decimated most of RP’s biodiversity
Forests, the leading natural habitat of the Philippines’s biodiversity, are rapidly disappearing.
By 2040, there may be no virgin forests, many forestry experts predict. Nonbelievers scoff at this, saying it is an exaggeration. But the figures cannot be wrong. The effects of deforestation are not figments of the imagination.
The rate of deforestation in the country is among the highest in the world. The worst deforestation happened during the period of 1990 to 1999, where 750,000 acres of virgin forest were lost.
Today, only 1.75 million acres remain of the nation’s virgin forests.
The loss was incredible. The rate of deforestation in that decade was almost 75,000 acres a year. It also came at a time when the logging ban was imposed in some select sites in the country.
As a result, flooding, soil erosion and degradation pegged at 100,000 tons of soil yearly, loss of species diversity and genetic material, loss of human lives and properties, and aesthetic and recreational loss were at their worst.
Much of the blame is on the government that, over the years, have passed laws favorable to logging concessions and implemented forest protection poorly. Government negligence has prompted the devastation of the forests.
Today, much of the remaining forests are still being invaded by commercial loggers.
Philippine forestry laws passed since 1930 have failed to provide adequate security provisions for virgin and secondary growth forests, thus, the forests had virtually no protection at all. For instance, there is only one forest guard for every 7,500 acres.
But even then, many official policies and strategies from the very start were faulty.
And many polices continue to be faulty.
Bengwayan has a master’s degree and PhD in Development Studies and Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin, Ireland, as a European Union fellow. He is currently a fellow of Echoing Green Foundation in New York.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes