While nearly one million species are currently at risk of extinction, the United Nations University (UNU) is drawing attention to “co-extinctions”: the chain reaction occurring when the complete disappearance of one species affects another.

The issue is in the spotlight ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity, observed annually on 22 May, and covered in the most recent edition of UNU’s Interconnected Disaster Risks report.

Among the animals at risk is the gopher tortoise, one of the oldest living species on the planet. This tragic story of biodiversity loss is unfolding at the heart of the coastal plains of the southern United States.

In shedding more light on co-extinctions, UNU said that intense human activities, such as land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and the introduction of invasive species, is causing an extinction acceleration that is at least tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural process of extinctions.

In the last 100 years, over 400 vertebrate species were lost, for example. The report therefore includes accelerated extinctions among its six interconnected ‘risk tipping points’.

Such points are reached when the systems that humanity relies on cannot buffer risks and stop functioning like expected – mainly as a result of human actions.

Addressing the biodiversity crisis demands a multifaceted approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of risks and solutions.

The theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity calls for everyone to support implementation of the Biodiversity Plan, adopted in 2022, which sets goals and concrete measures to stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2050.

One of the goals includes reducing the extinction rate of all species tenfold by mid-century and increasing the abundance of native wild species to healthy and resilient levels, said Zita Sebesvari, Deputy Director of UNU’s Institute for Environment and Human Security and lead author of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report.