AboutZoos, Since 2008


Bio­di­ver­sity falls below ‘safe lev­els’ globally

pub­lished 15 July 2016 | mod­i­fied 15 July 2016

Lev­els of global bio­di­ver­sity loss may neg­a­tively impact on ecosys­tem func­tion and the sus­tain­abil­ity of human soci­eties, accord­ing to research led by Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don (UCL).

This is the first time we’ve quan­ti­fied the effect of habi­tat loss on bio­di­ver­sity glob­ally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world bio­di­ver­sity loss is no longer within the safe limit sug­gested by ecol­o­gists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim New­bold from UCL and pre­vi­ously at UNEP World Con­ser­va­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre (UNEP-​WCMC).

We know bio­di­ver­sity loss affects ecosys­tem func­tion but how it does this is not entirely clear. What we do know is that in many parts of the world, we are approach­ing a sit­u­a­tion where human inter­ven­tion might be needed to sus­tain ecosys­tem function.”

Decision-​makers worry a lot about eco­nomic reces­sions, but an eco­log­i­cal reces­sion could have even worse consequences
Pro­fes­sor Andy Purvis, Nat­ural His­tory Museum, Lon­don, UK »

The team found that grass­lands, savan­nahs and shrub­lands were most affected by bio­di­ver­sity loss, fol­lowed closely by many of the world’s forests and wood­lands. They say the abil­ity of bio­di­ver­sity in these areas to sup­port key ecosys­tem func­tions such as growth of liv­ing organ­isms and nutri­ent cycling has become increas­ingly uncertain.

Biodiversity hotspotsHotspot bio­di­ver­sity safe lim­its.
Credit: Tim New­bold, UCL.

The study, pub­lished on 15 July in Sci­ence, led by researchers from UCL, the Nat­ural His­tory Museum and UNEP-​WCMC, found that lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could under­mine efforts towards long-​term sus­tain­able development.

For 58.1% of the world’s land sur­face, which is home to 71.4% of the global pop­u­la­tion, the level of bio­di­ver­sity loss is sub­stan­tial enough to ques­tion the abil­ity of ecosys­tems to sup­port human soci­eties. The loss is due to changes in land use and puts lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity beyond the ‘safe limit’ recently pro­posed by the plan­e­tary bound­aries — an inter­na­tional frame­work that defines a safe oper­at­ing space for humanity.

It’s wor­ry­ing that land use has already pushed bio­di­ver­sity below the level pro­posed as a safe limit,” said Pro­fes­sor Andy Purvis of the Nat­ural His­tory Museum, Lon­don, who also worked on the study. “Decision-​makers worry a lot about eco­nomic reces­sions, but an eco­log­i­cal reces­sion could have even worse con­se­quences — and the bio­di­ver­sity dam­age we’ve had means we’re at risk of that hap­pen­ing. Until and unless we can bring bio­di­ver­sity back up, we’re play­ing eco­log­i­cal roulette.”

The team used data from hun­dreds of sci­en­tists across the globe to analyse 2.38 mil­lion records for 39,123 species at 18,659 sites where are cap­tured in the data­base of the PRE­DICTS project. The analy­ses were then applied to esti­mate how bio­di­ver­sity in every square kilo­me­tre land has changed since before humans mod­i­fied the habitat.

They found that bio­di­ver­sity hotspots — those that have seen habi­tat loss in the past but have a lot of species only found in that area — are threat­ened, show­ing high lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity decline. Other high bio­di­ver­sity areas, such as Ama­zo­nia, which have seen no land use change have higher lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity and more scope for proac­tive conservation.

The great­est changes have hap­pened in those places where most peo­ple live, which might affect phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal well-​being. To address this, we would have to pre­serve the remain­ing areas of nat­ural veg­e­ta­tion and restore human-​used lands,” added Dr Newbold.

The team hope the results will be used to inform con­ser­va­tion pol­icy, nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally, and to facil­i­tate this, have made the maps from this paper and all of the under­ly­ing data pub­licly available.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don press release, 14.07.2016)

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