In a new study, published July 14, 2016, in the journal Science, researchers from University College London (UCL), the Natural History Museum, and UNEP-WCMC had used data obtained by hundreds of scientists worldwide to analyse 2.38 million records for 39,123 species at 18,659 different sites, and found levels of global biodiversity careening towards a future catastrophe.
“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 is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists,” explained lead researcher Dr Tim Newbold, currently working at UCL.
For 58.1% of the world’s land surface, which is home to 71.4% of the global population, the loss of biodiversity is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies. Grasslands, savannas and shrublands have it the worst, closely followed by many of the world’s forests and woodlands.
Due to changes in land use, these areas are becoming increasingly inhospitable and less capable of even the most basic of functions, like nutrient cycling and supporting the growth of native organisms. If the process continues unabated, human intervention in the near future could be inevitable.
Professor Andy Purvis of the National History Museum, London, who was also involved in the study, warns of the potential consequences that could easily rival the effects of unstable markets.
“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 greatest changes are taking place in areas with a high human population, suggesting the need for restorative practices, supplemented with conservation of the remaining areas of natural vegetation, such as Amazonia.
To facilitate using the results of the study to inform global conservation policy, the authors made the maps from this paper and all of the underlying data publicly available.