Human activities cause loss of habitat

The principle cause of habitat loss is human activity. This activity includes the land and resources we use, all of our production and consumption, and the wastes we discard.

Each human activity contributes to the main causes of species loss:

• habitat loss
• climate change
• invasive species
• pollution
• unsustainable trade
• bycatch (marine creatures accidentally caught in nets while fishing for other creatures)
• human-animal conflict.

Habitat loss affects over 2,000 mammal species around the world, and is considered the greatest threat to species across the globe1.

What activities cause habitat loss?

Forest loss and degradation is mostly caused by the expansion of agricultural land, the intensive harvesting of timber for fuel and other forest products, as well as over-grazing.

Increasing food production is one reason for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land.

High land conversion rates

The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million hectares, which is equivalent to 2.4% of the world’s forests. This is comparable in size to Tanzania, or Japan, New Zealand and Italy combined.

It is estimated that almost 70% of deforested areas were converted to agricultural land in the 1990s. By the end of the 20th century, around 40% of the world’s forest cover had disappeared, with much of this loss attributable to human activity. Deforestation continues at an alarming rate, mostly in tropical regions2.

The 2005 Global Forest Resources Assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations3 estimates the rate of deforestation at 13 million hectares per year. As tropical forests contain at least half the Earth’s species4, this represents an enormous loss.

What is WWF doing about protected areas?

Protected areas are one of the most effective tools for conserving species and natural habitats. They also contribute to the livelihoods and well-being of local communities and society more broadly.

For example, well-planned and well-managed protected areas can help to safeguard freshwater and food supplies, reduce poverty, and reduce the impacts of natural disasters.

1. IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 27 October 2010.

2. Ghazoul & Evans 2001. Deforestation and Landclearing. p. 23-36 in Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, V2. Editor in Chief: S. A. Levin, Academic Press

3. Accessed January 12 2011.

4. W. V. Reid, "How Many Species Will There Be?" in Tropical Deforestation and Species Extinction, T.C. Whitmore & J.A. Sayer ed. (World Conservation Union/London: Chapman & Hall, 1992), 63. Cited by World Resources Institute:
, accessed January 12 2011.
Burning the rainforest to clear land for Oil palm trees (Elaesis guineensis) plantations, Bukit ... 
	© Mark Edwards / WWF
Burning the rainforest to clear land for Oil palm trees (Elaesis guineensis) plantations, Bukit Tigapuluh Nature Reserve Sumatra, Indonesia
© Mark Edwards / WWF