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Better agricultural planning could prevent 88% of biodiversity loss, study finds

  • Results of a new study reveal that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species.
  • It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent.
  • However, there are caveats. The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level. And they say global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.”
  • The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries.

Better planning could save a lot of wildlife, according to results from a study published recently in Global Change Biology. It found that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species.

For their study, researchers at German institutions including the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) looked at distributions and habitat information for almost 20,000 vertebrate species along with projections of agricultural intensification and spatial land-use optimization scenarios.

They found that if agriculture expansion was spatially optimized through global coordination to areas with low biodiversity, 88 percent of the world’s expected future biodiversity losses could be avoided. If coordinated at the national level, their study indicates that number would be 61 percent.

It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent.

“A few tropical countries including India, Brazil, or Indonesia would have by far the greatest leverage for making global agricultural production more sustainable,” study co-author Carsten Meyer, of iDiv and the University of Leipzig, said in a statement.

Land cleared for an oil palm plantation abuts rainforest in Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia.

The study states that these results imply “huge efficiency gains” are possible through international cooperation — but there are big caveats.

The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts, and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level.

“Unfortunately, these countries are also often characterized by domestic land-use conflicts as well as by relatively weak land-governing institutions, both of which currently inhibit land-use optimization,” Meyer said.

There’s an additional complicating factor, according to lead author Lukas Egli of the University of Göttingen and UFZ. He said global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.”

“Unless such conflicting national interests can be somehow accommodated in international sustainability policies, global cooperation seems unlikely and might generate new socioeconomic dependencies,” Egli said.

The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries. They say their study’s results could be used to “guide international donors and capacity-building institutions in making strategic investments.”

“Targeted efforts are needed to improve these countries’ capacities for integrated and sustainable land-use planning,” Meyer said.

 

Citation:

Egli, L., Meyer, C., Scherber, C., Kreft, H., & Tscharntke, T. (2018). Winners and losers of national and global efforts to reconcile agricultural intensification and biodiversity conservation. Global change biology.

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