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Global biodiversity crisis is actually worse than we thought

As the populations of living species decline and disappear from habitats around the world, there is a decrease in genetic variety and living biodiversity within species, within ecosystems and within geographical regions. This can have significant consequences for humans, who are dependent on the services provided by intact ecosystems. And a survey completed by the world’s biodiversity experts finds that things may be worse than we previously thought.

“Biodiversity loss is one of our biggest environmental challenges in the world, probably more important than climate change. The problem of climate change can be corrected by stopping the emission of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you lose a species, it’s gone forever,” said Professor Johannes Knops, a researcher at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

Professor Knops is one of more than 60 experts who have co-authored the major global study of biodiversity loss, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The researchers surveys from thousands of international scientists in the biodiversity field to identify knowledge gaps and assess the state of the world’s biodiversity from different geographical and demographic perspectives. The study aimed to understand biodiversity loss globally and the most influential factors driving this phenomenon.

The team included scientists from many different backgrounds, including those from groups that are often underrepresented in biodiversity science, such as women and those from the Global South. Despite these different backgrounds, there was an overwhelming consensus among participants that global biodiversity loss will likely limit the functioning of ecosystems and therefore affect the ways in which ecosystems support and contribute to people.

The findings suggest that more species may be threatened than previously thought. The experts estimate that since 1500, 30 percent of all species have been threatened with extinction or driven extinct. If current trends continue, this could increase to 37 percent by 2100. However, the experts also stress that with swift and extensive conservation efforts, this can be lowered to 25 percent.

The most influential factors driving biodiversity loss, according to the expert participants, are climate change, pollution, and land- and sea-use change and exploitation. 

“Biodiversity loss occurs in many different places, and there are gaps in our common understanding of it. This collaboration can help us reach a consensus on where to make efforts to improve biodiversity,” said Professor Knops.

The inclusion of representatives from diverse backgrounds revealed differences in opinions about the extent of biodiversity loss and the best ways to conserve species future. This was particularly noticeable when discussing strategies for increasing biodiversity using the current approach of land sharing and land sparing.

“The land sharing strategy focuses on thinking about how agriculture and cities can co-exist with biodiversity, while the land sparing strategy expands the size of protected areas to increase biodiversity while maintaining intensive agricultural practices elsewhere,” explained Professor Knops.

“Historically, there has been a greater emphasis on land sparing and making nature reserves, which was put forth predominantly by North American and European white males. Women and people in China, South America and Africa, place more emphasis on land sharing. These findings suggest that maybe there’s disproportionate focus on land sparing, and there should be more consideration of land sharing.”

The experts encourage other researchers to use the study to understand the global perspectives on biodiversity loss and to include diverse viewpoints in future research.  

“Every species has its own food chain and needs to interact with other species in ecosystems, each of which is important to the ecosystem. That is why we should be concerned about biodiversity loss,” said Professor Knops.

By Alison Bosman, Staff Writer

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