Species face worldwide dramatic decrease in population

By Michaela Hall – mhall3@unca.edu – Contributor | Nov. 19, 2014 |

A recent study released by the World Wildlife Fund reported a 52 percent decrease in average species populations worldwide between 1970 and 2010. Wildlife throughout the world has been more than cut in half.

David Gillette, an environmental studies professor at UNC Asheville, said it is a relevant problem, and often overlooked, since people tend to miss the big picture.

“People are happy when they see things in the same condition they saw them in when they were young, not realizing it was a lot different,” Gillette said.

According to a pamphlet issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local animals, such as several species of Eastern and Midwestern bats, are suffering great losses. 

Scientists estimate more than a million bats have died from a disease called white-nose syndrome, causing the most dramatic decline in North American wildlife in 100 years.

Susan Cameron, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doing terrestrial species listing and recovery, said the non-native syndrome, first documented in New York, was more than likely brought to the United States by people via clothing, then spread among bats.

Cameron said this loss could potentially cause a ripple effect.

“Bats are incredibly important predators of night-flying insects, so that can impact things like insect abundance,” Cameron said. “Once we had millions of little brown bats in the Northeast eating lots of insects –

what does it mean to suddenly remove those?”

One student said she joined Active Students for a Healthy Environment, UNC Asheville’s oldest environmental organization, to help make changes locally.

Lauren Martin of Maypack, New York, said the group is open to all students and is a great way to make others aware of issues and take action.

Martin said the group meets on a weekly basis and also does proactive work such as river cleanups. They also plan to have a table set up during UNC Asheville’s Greenfest to help raise awareness for local issues.

“Something I really believe strongly in is eating food that is locally grown and doesn’t have an impact on the environment,” Martin said.

It’s important in terms of environmental sustainability to know where food is from, and to make changes to support the environment, she said.

A pamphlet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, “Why Save Endangered Species,” offers an incentive to remember — no creature exists in a vacuum. Every living thing is part of an intricate biosphere and even the smallest actions can have detrimental effects.

“There are kind of three main things that are leading to loss of species. One is habitat loss, that’s the biggest one,” Gillette said. “So in other words, whether it’s deforestation or whether it’s polluted water, when you alter the natural habitat, species that are evolved to live there can’t anymore.“

Gillette said the other two causes are invasions of non-native species, often brought in by humans, and the over-harvest of natural resources.

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