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What are the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss?

Global biodiversity has declined by 2% to 11% during the 20th century due to land-use changes alone. As we progress into the mid-21st century, climate change is projected to become the primary driver of biodiversity loss.

This is the conclusion of a comprehensive multi-model study led by the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).

Primary drivers of biodiversity loss

The researchers utilized thirteen models to evaluate the impacts of land-use and climate change on four different biodiversity metrics and nine ecosystem services. The findings highlight the substantial influence of human activity on natural environments.

Land-use change has long been recognized by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) as a significant factor affecting biodiversity. This study’s detailed modeling of land-use impacts over the last century indicates that these changes alone could have reduced global biodiversity by as much as 11 percent. 

“By including all world regions in our model, we were able to fill many blind spots and address criticism of other approaches working with fragmented and potentially biased data,” said lead author Henrique Pereira, a conservation biologist at iDiv and MLU.

Land-use changes and ecosystem services 

In addition to biodiversity metrics, the study also explored the effects of land-use change on ecosystem services. 

The analysis revealed that, while provisioning services like food and timber production saw significant increases, regulating services such as pollination, nitrogen retention, and carbon sequestration experienced declines.

Future drivers of biodiversity loss  

Looking forward, the study combined the effects of climate change with land-use changes to project future biodiversity and ecosystem service trends. 

All scenarios – from sustainable development to high emissions – suggest that biodiversity loss will occur across all global regions due to the compounded effects of these two factors.

According to the scientists, the purpose of examining long-term scenarios is not to predict what will happen, but to understand alternatives, and thus avoid the trajectories that are least desirable, and select those that have positive outcomes. These trajectories depend strongly on the policies we choose.

Safeguarding biodiversity in the coming decades

“Our analysis shows that a truly integrated approach considering the different sustainability dimensions in a consistent framework is needed to reduce conflicts between policies and safeguard biodiversity in the coming decades,” said study co-author Petr Havlík, the program director of IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources.

“For instance, while bioenergy deployment is still a critical element of the majority of climate stabilization scenarios, it also poses a threat to species habitats.”

Prioritizing conservation and restoration efforts

“Given the potentially synergistic negative effects of land use and climate change on biodiversity, our findings suggest that conservation and restoration efforts should be prioritized globally as necessary natural climate solutions,” noted study co-author Piero Visconti, the Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group leader at IIASA.

“This underscores the importance of effectively implementing area-based conservation targets for integrated planning, ecological restoration, and protected areas under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.” 

Addressing human-induced biodiversity loss

According to the scientists, evaluating the effects of specific policies on biodiversity is crucial for pinpointing the most effective strategies to protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

Despite uncertainties in modeling, the results unequivocally demonstrate that existing policies fall short of achieving international biodiversity targets. This highlights the urgent need for intensified efforts to address human-induced biodiversity loss.

More about biodiversity loss 

Biodiversity loss refers to the ongoing decline in the variety of life across the planet, encompassing species, genetic variants, and ecosystems. The drivers of biodiversity loss include human activities such as deforestation, pollution, climate change, and overexploitation of natural resources. 

The impact of losing biodiversity is profound and multifaceted, affecting everything from ecosystem stability and resilience to the availability of resources like food, clean water, and medicines. As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services, leading to challenges that affect climate regulation, flood control, and the pollination of plants. 

This loss also has significant cultural impacts, especially for indigenous communities who depend directly on their local ecosystems. The fight against biodiversity loss involves conservation efforts, sustainable practices, and international agreements aimed at preserving the natural world for future generations.

The study is published in the journal Science.


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