India’s soil biodiversity is in grave peril, according to the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas prepared by the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The WWF’s ‘risk index’ for the globe — indicating threats from loss of above-ground diversity, pollution and nutrient over-loading, over-grazing, intensive agriculture, fire, soil erosion, desertification and climate change — shows India among countries whose soil biodiversity faces the highest level of risk. Coloured red on the Atlas, these include Pakistan, China, several countries in Africa and Europe, and most of North America.
Soil biodiversity encompasses the presence of micro-organisms, micro-fauna (nematodes and tardigrades for example), and macro-fauna (ants, termites and earthworms).
The findings were part of the bi-annual Living Planet Report 2018.
“A key aspect of this year’s report is the threat to soil biodiversity and pollinators [such as bees],” Ravi Singh, CEO, WWF-India, told reporters at an event marking the report’s release.
Mr. Singh cited a Tamil Nadu Agricultural University study that observed that while 150 million bee colonies were needed to meet the pollination requirements of about 50 million hectares of agricultural land in India, only 1.2 million colonies were present.
The population of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have dwindled by an average of 60% from 1970 to 2014, and fresh-water species have declined by 83% in the same period. Since 1960, the global ecological footprint has increased by more than 190%. Globally, the extent of wetlands was estimated to have declined by 87% since 1970.
“Science is showing us the harsh reality that our forests, oceans and rivers are enduring at our hands,” Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International, said in a press release. “Inch by inch, species by species, shrinking wildlife numbers are an indicator of the tremendous impact and pressure we are exerting on our planet.”
The two key drivers of biodiversity loss were the over exploitation of natural resources and agriculture, the WWF added in its report.
While India’s per capita ecological footprint was less than 1.75 hectares/person (which is in the lowest band, among countries surveyed) its high population made it vulnerable to an ecological crisis, even if per-capita consumption remained at current levels, the WWF warned.
To address these challenges, the WWF suggests three necessary steps: “clearly specifying a goal for biodiversity recovery; developing a set of measurable and relevant indicators of progress; and agreeing on a suite of actions that can collectively achieve the goal in the required time frame.”