Agriculture named among biggest causes of ‘unprecedented’ biodiversity loss

Agricultural expansion, unsustainable fishing and various other changes in land and sea use are the main causes of biodiversity loss rates that are “unprecedented in human history”.

That is according to a landmark UN-backed report, which reveals that more than one million species are now threatened with extinction, many of which could be wiped out within decades.

Changes to land and sea management were found to be the biggest culprit, followed by direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.

The researchers warned that more than two-thirds of the planet’s natural environment has now been “significantly altered” by humans, and that extinction rates are accelerating.

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said report author, professor Josef Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human wellbeing in all regions of the world.”

The report, from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES), has been compiled by 140 authors from 50 countries during the past three years, and is the most comprehensive assessment of its kind. It reveals that extinction rates today could be hundreds of times higher than they have been on average during the past 10m years, with the number of native species in most major land-based habitats having fallen by at least 20% – mostly in the past three decades.

Food crop production, meanwhile, has increased by 300% since 1970, while a third of marine fish stocks have been harvested at unsustainable levels in recent years.

The report calls for deeper engagement from all actors throughout the food chain to tackle the problem, and promotes good agricultural practices and multifunctional landscape planning. It also highlights the need for ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, effective quotas, marine protected areas, a reduction in run-off pollution into oceans, and close work with producers and consumers.

In urban areas, the researchers recommend nature-based planning solutions that improve access to green spaces and boost ecological connectivity with native species.

IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said: “The report offers the best available expert evidence to help inform these decisions, policies and actions, and provides the scientific basis for the biodiversity framework and new decadal targets for biodiversity.”

Read the report at:


Image credit | iStock

Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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