Land is constantly being cleared to meet the world’s rising food demands. With current diets, nearly 90 percent of land animals could lose some of their habitat by 2050. However, reducing food waste, changing the way we eat and increasing yields could prevent almost all of the expected loss.
Habitat, which provides space for agriculture, is a huge threat to species far and wide. Existing projections estimate that we need between 2 and 10 million square kilometers of new agricultural land to meet the demand for food for the next 30 years – all at the expense of natural areas.
David Williams at the University of Leeds, UK, and his colleagues have developed a model based on current trajectories that shows how expanding agriculture will affect the natural habitats of nearly 20,000 terrestrial mammals, amphibians and birds.
They identified that over 17,000 species will lose some of their habitat by 2050, with over 1250 species losing 25 percent and at least 350 species expected to lose more than half.
The worst affected were sub-Saharan Africa and the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, but losses hit every continent.
“We have to produce a huge amount of food in the coming decades,” Williams said. As the population grows and people get richer, they eat more environmentally friendly food – especially meat and dairy products. “Basically, you have to put a lot of calories in a cow to get a calorie of cow to eat,” he says. This requires a huge amount of land to be cleared for growing livestock feed as well as for food crops.
The researchers also tested a number of alternative futures and found that almost all habitat loss could be avoided if we changed our eating habits.
Reduces food waste and transition to a more plant-based diet, especially in more economically developed countries, can prevent this habitat loss. We could also lead agriculture away from countries where biodiversity is likely to be hard hit, and protect the species that are less tolerant of food production, says co-author Michael Clark at the University of Oxford.
Changing diets and reducing food waste not only supports biodiversity, but will also fight climate change and improve people’s health, says Andrew Balmford at the University of Cambridge.
Journal reference: Nature Sustainability, DOI: 10.1038 / s41893-020-00656-5
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