Global animal, bird and fish populations have plummeted more than two-thirds in less than 50 years due to rampant over-consumption, experts have said today in a stark warning to save nature in order to save ourselves.

The Living Planet Index, which tracks more than 4,000 species of vertebrates, warns that increasing deforestation and agricultural expansion were the key drivers behind a 68% average decline in populations between 1970 and 2016.

It cautions that continued natural habitat loss increases the risk of future pandemics as humans expand their presence into ever closer contact with wild animals.

Human activity has severely degraded three quarters of all land and 40% of Earth's oceans, and our quickening destruction of nature is likely to have untold consequences on our health and livelihoods.

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2020's Living Planet Report, a collaboration between WWF International and the Zoological Society of London, is the 13th edition of the biennial publication tracking wildlife populations around the world.

WWF International director general Marco Lambertini spoke of the staggering loss of Earth's biodiversity since 1970.

"It's an accelerating decrease that we've been monitoring for 30 years and it continues to go in the wrong direction," he said.

"In 2016 we documented a 60% decline, now we have a 70% decline.

"All this is in a blink of an eye compared to the millions of years that many species have been living on the planet."

'Staggering' fall 

The last half-decade has seen unprecedented economic growth underpinned by an explosion in global consumption of natural resources.

Whereas until 1970, humanity's ecological footprint was smaller than the Earth's capacity to regenerate resources, the WWF now calculates we are over using the planet's capacity by more than half.

While aided by factors such as invasive species and pollution, the biggest single driver of species loss is land-use changes, such as forests or grasslands being converted into farms.

This takes an immense toll on wild species, which lose their homes. But it also requires unsustainable levels of resources to uphold: one third of all land mass and three quarters of all freshwater are now dedicated to producing food.

The picture is equally dire in the ocean, where 75% of fish stocks are over exploited.

And while wildlife is declining rapidly, species are disappearing faster in some places than others.

The index shows that the tropical regions of Central and South America had seen a 94% fall in species since 1970.

"It is staggering. It is ultimately an indicator of our impact on the natural world," said Mr Lambertini.