Climate and Food Production Consuming Too Much Habitat

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

According to a new study in the journal Nature Communications, the development of natural habitat for agriculture and urbanization, as well as the transformation of habitat caused by climate change, are “major causes of the decline in range sizes, and two of the most important threats to global terrestrial biodiversity.”  The study’s authors examined changes in the geographical range of nearly 17,000 species between the year 1700 and today. Using this data, they were able to predict future changes through the year 2100 under various climate scenarios. They found that species globally have lost on average 18% of their natural habitat range as a result of changes in land use and climate change, and in the worst-case scenario, this loss could increase to 23% over the next 80 years.

Why This Matters:  Food production processes emit lots of carbon, and now we see that food production also drives loss of habitat and thus species’ extinction.  We need to figure out how to make food in ways that are more sustainable or it will make life on Earth for humans impossible.  We can’t live with the way food is produced, but we also can’t live without it.  It’s our choice, as the study’s authors explain, whether habitat losses will reverse, continue, or accelerate, which is why protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 is essential.

Habitat Areas Shrinking Causing Further Harms

“The habitat size of almost all known birds, mammals and amphibians is shrinking, primarily because of land conversion by humans as we continue to expand our agricultural and urban areas,” said Dr. Robert Beyer in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, first author of the report, according to Ecowatch.  The study also shows that deforestation and habitat loss harm the natural cycles of ecosystems, affecting all stages of animal life from reproduction, to migration, to mating. For most species, survivability depends on geographic range. Moreover, it does not impact all species the same — some feel the loss more greatly than others.

The Tropics Especially Hard Hit

The authors also found that animals in the tropics are particularly vulnerable because many of them have a very small range and the number of different species there is greater.  If they lose even a small portion of their habitat, many more species “lose larger proportions of their home than in places like Europe,” said Dr. Robert Beyer of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, one of the authors of the study.

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