Biodiversity: climate becomes the main player

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

A recent study in the journal Science takes the most comprehensive look yet at the past and future of global biodiversity: intensive land use reduced biodiversity by up to around 10 percent over the course of the 20th century. By 2050, the climate crisis could become the main factor, alongside land use, for further losses in biodiversity. Lauren Talluto from the Institute of Ecology at the University of Innsbruck is part of the international team of authors.

Global biodiversity has declined by two to 11 percent in the 20th century due to changes in land use alone, according to the study published in Science. The comprehensive model calculations of the international team of researchers also show one thing above all: climate change could become the main reason for the decline in biodiversity by 2050. "Until now,Íland use due to the use of soil and land by humans was considered the main cause. For the first time, this study has now provided a global perspective on the complex development of biodiversity. This is a major step forward for our field of research and brings the effects of the climate crisis into play as a central factor for the future," emphasizes Lauren Talluto from the Flywaters Ecosystem Ecology research group at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Innsbruck. In her work, Talluto deals with the creation of models for the development of biodiversity and is particularly interested in the effects of climate change in this context.

Global trends for biodiversity

The work, led by the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), is the most comprehensive modeling study of its kind to date. The team of researchers compared thirteen models that calculate the effects of land use and climate change on four different measures of biodiversity and nine different ecosystem services. According to the World Biodiversity Council IPBES,Íland-use change, for example the conversion of forest to pasture, is the most important factor in biodiversity change. However, measuring the extent to which biodiversity has changed is still a major challenge for scientists. The team of researchers therefore modeled the effects of land use change on biodiversity in the 20th century. "By including all regions of the Earth in our model, we were able to fill in many blind spots. We were also able to address the criticism of other calculation approaches that use fragmented and possibly unrepresentative data," says first author Henrique Pereira, research group leader at iDiv and at MLU.

Effects on ecosystem services

The team also used five different models to calculate the effects of land use change on ecosystem services as part of this study. For the past 20th century, the researchers found that provisioning services, such as food and wood production, have multiplied, while regulating services - such as pollination by insects or the sequestration of climate-relevant carbon - have declined slightly. However, the study also looked into the future up to 2050 and the authors added climate change as a further factor in their models. According to these calculations, the consequences of climate change will additionally affect both biodiversity and ecosystem services. While land-use change continues to play an important role, climate change could become the main cause of biodiversity loss by the middle of the 21st century. The team evaluated three current climate scenarios, ranging from sustainable development to very high emissions, and concluded that land use and climate change together will lead to a decline in all regions of the world, even if the details naturally differ in the various world regions, models and scenarios. "The results once again make it very clear that globally coordinated action is urgently needed to mitigate the consequences of the climate crisis and that the conservation of biodiversity should be a top priority in terms of ecosystem services alone, which are essential for survival," emphasizes Lauren Talluto.

Publication : Henrique M. Pereira et al. Global trends and scenarios for terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem services from 1900 to 2050. Science 384 , 458’465 (2024). adn3441

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