148 Million Hectares Of Biodiversity Hotspots Lost To Agriculture, Urbanization In 24 Years: Study
Biodiversity hotspots across the world have lost 148 million hectares of land to agriculture and urbanization — in just 24 years.
A biodiversity hotspot refers to a biologically diverse, yet threatened region that is in a conservation crisis, having lost at least 70% of its original natural vegetation, usually due to human activity. At present, there are more than 30 recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world, including regions of the Himalayas.
Published in the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment last week, the study was conducted by researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), who studied global trends in biodiversity loss by analyzing high-resolution land-cover maps by the European Space Agency, between 1992 to 2015.
Experts believe that the need to grow food to feed a growing population, besides the need to increase income, could be responsible for a biodiversity loss of this scale, especially given that “soils in these areas are very fertile, and agricultural yields can be very high.” In addition, they believe that weak environmental protection laws and regulations exacerbate the problem — in fact, the researchers found major deforestation even in areas that were supposed to be protected.
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However, remedying this could be tricky — while farming poses a threat to biodiversity, it is also the source of livelihood and sustenance to many. “We need to be able somehow to link protection to poverty alleviation, because most of the biodiversity hotspots are in underdeveloped countries and it’s difficult to go there and say to a farmer, ‘Well, you need to keep this forest — don’t have a rice paddy or a field to feed your family,'” Francesco Cherubini, director of the NTNU’s industrial ecology program, and senior author of the study, said in a statement, adding: “We need to also make it possible for the local communities to benefit from protection measures. They need income, too.”
The researchers noted that 40% of the area lost was forested, and the largest losses were sustained by biodiversity hotspots in “developing countries or impoverished regions” in Sundaland (Indonesia), Indo-Burma (mainland southeast Asia), and Mesoamerica (extending across North America).
“Increasing efficiency in agricultural production and the food value chain and distribution, cutting food waste and a change in diets to eat less meat can all help decrease pressure on land, which will make more space for conservation efforts and climate change mitigation,” Cherubini recommends.