15 February 2021

Wildlife trade drives declines of over 60% in species abundance, according to new research

International wildlife trade is causing declines of over 60 per cent in the abundance of species but there is little research on the impacts of this severe threat to global wildlife, according to researchers.

elephant tusks in a pile
  • New research from a team of international scientists has found declines of over 60 per cent in the abundance of species and over 80 per cent in endangered species as a result of legal and illegal wildlife trade
  • 100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year for pets, traditional medicines and luxury foods, with the international wildlife trade worth between $4-20 billion per year
  • Findings highlight lack of research on the impact of trade compared to other key drivers of extinction like deforestation and overhunting
  • Research calls for the need for better protective measures for threatened species and management of trade

International wildlife trade is causing declines of over 60 per cent in the abundance of species but there is little research on the impacts of this severe threat to global wildlife, according to researchers.

A team of scientists at the University of Sheffield, the University of Florida, and Norwegian University of Life Sciences have found that wildlife trade is causing declines of around 62 per cent in the abundance of species, with endangered species suffering declines of over 80 per cent. Although there are policies managing trade, without enough research on the effects of wildlife trade these policies cannot claim to safeguard species.

At least 100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year and the international wildlife trade is said to be worth between $4-20 billion per year. Notable examples of how trade impacts species are the decline of African elephants due to the ivory trade and the demise of pangolin species across Africa and Asia.

The findings also highlight the need for better protective measures for threatened species and management of trade, with trade still driving declines of 56 per cent in protected areas.

Professor David Edwards, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Sheffield, said: “Thousands of species are traded for pets, traditional medicines, and luxury foods, but how this impacts species’ abundances in the wild was unknown. Our research draws together high-quality field studies to reveal a shocking reduction in most traded species, driving many locally extinct.

“Trapping drives particularly severe declines in species at high risk of extinction and those traded for pets. Such high levels of offtake suggests trade is often unsustainable, yet a lot of trade is conducted legally. As a society, we urgently need to reflect upon our desire for exotic pets and the efficacy of legal frameworks designed to prevent species declines.”

The researchers also found that understanding of how wildlife trade is impacting species is severely lacking in developed nations, and for many commonly traded wildlife groups, despite it being one of their biggest drivers of species extinction.

For such a severe threat to global wildlife, we uncovered concerningly limited data on the impacts of wildlife trade in Asia, North America and Europe, as well as a lack of data for many amphibians, invertebrates, cacti and orchids, despite these groups often being traded.

Oscar Morton

PhD student at the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Oscar Morton, lead author of the research from the University of Sheffield, said: “Where extraction for wildlife trade occurs we found large declines in species abundances. This highlights the key role global wildlife trade plays in species extinction risk. Without effective management such trade will continue to threaten wildlife.

“For such a severe threat to global wildlife, we uncovered concerningly limited data on the impacts of wildlife trade in Asia, North America and Europe, as well as a lack of data for many amphibians, invertebrates, cacti and orchids, despite these groups often being traded.”

The team found that the declines in abundance were worse for species being traded as pets, but declines were also caused by trade for bushmeat.


Additional information

Nature Ecology and Evolution - full research paper

The University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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