Biodiversity has dropped dangerously low across more than half of the world’s land surface, according to a new report published in the journal Science. The study, led by researchers from University College London, the Natural History Museum, London, and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), found that 58 percent of the Earth’s land, which is home to 71 percent of the human population, has surpassed a safe limit for biodiversity loss, threatening long-term sustainable development efforts.

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“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, one of the study’s authors. “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.”

Related: One in five plants on Earth are at risk for extinction

The authors of the report analyzed 2.38 million records for 39,123 plant and animal species at 18,659 sites across the planet, finding that grasslands, savannas and shrublands have experienced the most biodiversity loss, followed by forests and woodlands. The safe limit is defined as a 10 percent reduction in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), a measure put forward last year by ecological experts updating the planetary boundaries framework.

Dr. Tim Newbold, the study’s lead author and a research associate at University College London, suggested that ecological restoration efforts might be needed because if ecosystem functions begin to break down, it could impact the ability of agriculture to sustain human societies. “The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing,” said Newbold. “To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands.”

+ Report: Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment

Via Science Daily

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