Article image

Human infrastructure found in most key biodiversity areas

A global network of thousands of sites known as “Key Biodiversity Areas” (KBAs) often contain species on the brink of extinction or ecosystems that are found in only a small area worldwide. According to a recent study published in the journal Biological Conservation, at least 80 percent of sites officially identified as being internationally important for biodiversity are negatively affected by human infrastructure. In the near future, scientists expect this percentage to rise, with more KBAs containing power plants, mines, and oil and gas infrastructure.

Infrastructure is a major threat to biodiversity worldwide, often causing natural habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, increased disturbance/hunting by humans, direct mortality, and the spread of invasive species. Moreover, it can have far wider impacts beyond the development site. 

The scientists assessed 15,150 KBAs on land and found that over 80 percent of them contained infrastructure such as roads (75 percent), power lines (37 percent), and urban areas (37 percent). Moreover, future forecasts estimate that infrastructure developments could lead to an additional 2,201 KBAs containing mines (from 754 to 2,955, or a 292 percent increase), an additional 1,508 KBAs containing oil and gas infrastructure (from 2,081 to 3,589; 72 percent increase) and an additional 1,372 KBAs containing power plants (from 233 to 1,605; 589 percent increase).

The analysis revealed that countries in South America, Sub-Saharan, central, and southern Africa, and parts of southeast Asia are the areas with the highest proportion of extractive claims, concessions, or planned development in their KBA networks, while all of the KBAs identified in Bangladesh, Kuwait, the Republic of the Congo, and Serbia have potential extractive claims, concession, or planned development.

“It’s concerning that human developments exist in the vast majority of sites that have been identified as being critical for nature,” said study lead author Ashley Simkins, a doctoral student in Zoology at the University of Cambridge.

“We recognize that infrastructure is essential to human development but it’s about building smartly. This means ideally avoiding or otherwise minimizing infrastructure in the most important locations for biodiversity. If the infrastructure must be there, then it should be designed to cause as little damage as possible, and the impacts more than compensated for elsewhere.”

“Infrastructure underpins our societies, delivering the water we drink, the roads we travel on, and the electricity that powers livelihoods,” said Wendy Elliott, Deputy Leader for Wildlife at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “This study illustrates the crucial importance of ensuring smart infrastructure development that provides social and economic value for all, while ensuring positive outcomes for nature. Making this happen will be the challenge of our time, but with the right planning, design, and commitment it is well within the realms of possibility.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day