You would be hard pressed to find someone who can deny that humanity has had a drastic and dire impact on nearly every other species on the planet over the course of our species’ existence. A new study published in the journal Nature offers a broad view of exactly how much biodiversity has been lost since the 16th century, but also gives hope that some of this damage can be reversed if humanity takes some immediate and drastic action to tackle climate change. It turns out that developing strong carbon markets are the key to reversing biodiversity losses.
According to Phys.org, the study gives a global view of the damage caused by humans since the 1500s, and shows that by 2005 worldwide land use change led to a 14 percent decline in the average number of species found in local ecosystems – and most of that loss has happened in the past century alone.
Based on data from more than 70 countries and 26,593 species, the team predicted the overall 14 per cent drop that proves local biodiversity in some areas is still relatively intact. In some places like Western Europe, the number of losses sits in the range of 20 to 30 percent – with 20 percent being the tipping point beyond which ecosystems lose their ability to provide natural protection from floods and pest outbreaks.
“For example, as biodiversity declines, outbreaks of crop pests become more likely,” study lead scientist, Andy Purvis told Phys.org. “We can spray crops and spend money to reduce that risk, but that is basically compensating for something that biodiversity used to provide before.”
The team also incorporated a number of different climate change scenarios into their research to see how human activity would affect biodiversity into the future. They modeled four different climate change scenarios developed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
While most brought nothing but bad news for biodiversity on the planet, showing a further 3.4 percent average loss of local species worldwide, at least one showed potential for a more positive outcome. Establishing strong carbon markets, where high biodiversity habitats are given an economic value, shows a positive outcome for biodiversity in nearly all countries on the planet – even the poorest.
“These findings are a significant milestone in understanding our impact on the planet,” Purvis said. “They show that what happens next is completely down to us. If we carry on as we are, numbers of species will fall by nearly 3.5 per cent on average by 2100. But if society takes concerted action, and reduces climate change by valuing forests properly, then by the end of the century we can undo the last 50 years of damage to biodiversity on land.”