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Biodiversity damage mapped by global land-use

Researchers found that the worst-affected areas had lost one in three of their species, enough to substantially impact the functioning of those environments. (April 2 2015)

Humanity’s use of land for agricultural production has come at a cost to local ecosystems worldwide, but some of the damage can be reversed, according to a major collaborative research project from UNEP-WCMC, the Natural History Museum, and British universities. A global network of contributors has submitted data from every continent, providing the most complete picture yet of the effects of land-use by humans. The team of scientists assessed changes in biodiversity from 1500 until the present day. Over 280 publications have been consulted, with 26,593 species considered by researchers.

The study, published today as an article in the journal Nature, revealed that:

  • by 2005 land-use change had caused a decrease of 13.6 per cent in the average number of species found in local ecosystems, compared to the pre-industrial era. Most of the loss has come in the last 100 years.
  • The team concluded that, if human impacts continue to grow as they have been, future losses in biodiversity will be concentrated in biodiverse but economically poor countries.