Climate change to pose bigger threat to biodiversity than land use by 2070
Climate change is set to overtake habitat destruction as the biggest threat facing biodiversity across the world by 2070, with amphibians and reptiles among the most at risk.
That is according to research by University College London, which reveals that up to a quarter of individual vertebrate species could be lost by then as a result of climate change.
This would outstrip the losses caused by habitat destruction for agriculture and settlements, which are thought to be at around 10%, and surpass the effects of historical land use.
Temperate regions are predicted to see relatively small biodiversity changes from future climate change, while tropical grasslands and savannahs are expected to see strong losses.
Study author, Dr Tim Newbold, said: “My results suggest that climate change will have a rapidly increasing effect on the structure of ecological communities in the coming decades.
“Unsurprisingly, climate change is predicted to have the smallest effects under a scenario with strong climate mitigation.”
Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study suggests that the combination of both climate change and land use could see diversity of vertebrate species decline by nearly 40%.
This could have serious repercussions for ecosystem function, with previous studies indicating a substantial impairment when more than 20% of species are lost, which is estimated to have already occurred across a quarter of the world.
Newbold said the findings suggest that efforts to minimise human impact on global biodiversity should now take both land use and climate change into account instead of just focusing on one over the other.
“The combined effects of climate and land-use are likely to cause a loss of biodiversity sufficient to have substantial negative effects on ecosystem functioning across a large proportion of the terrestrial biosphere,” he continued.
“‘Business as usual’ will have very strong negative effects – mitigating both climate and land-use change will be essential to conserve local biodiversity.”
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Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM