Threats to Biodiversity around the World

New research reveals the location and intensity of key threats to biodiversity on land using a novel modeling approach and identifies priority areas around the world to help inform conservation decision-making at the national and local levels.

Agriculture, hunting and trapping, logging, pollution, invasive species, and climate change are the six major threats affecting terrestrial amphibians, birds, and mammals, according to a team of leading researchers. According to the findings, agriculture and logging are widespread in the tropics, and hunting and trapping is the most geographically widespread threat to mammals and birds. There are large continental areas where any particular amphibian, mammal, or bird species is more than 50% threatened by logging, hunting, and trapping, agriculture, invasive species, or climate change.

The world is facing a global nature crisis, but knowledge about the location and severity of the threats causing biodiversity loss is limited. The spatial intensity of threats and how they affect species on the ground is critical for improving and targeting conservation responses. This study provides a first attempt to map this information as well as a research path to improve our understanding of how threats to biodiversity vary around the world.

We are in the midst of a global nature crisis, and the next ten years are critical for taking decisive action to combat biodiversity loss. Our findings reveal the location and magnitude of human-caused environmental threats

Dr. Mike Harfoot

The IUCN Red List is used to map threats to terrestrial vertebrates on a global scale, identifying the most common threat for each taxon. Agriculture is the most prevalent threat to amphibians, accounting for 44 percent of global lands, according to the study. Hunting and trapping are the most common threats to birds and mammals, accounting for 50% of all land for birds and 73% of all land for mammals. Agriculture is the most serious threat to amphibians, mammals, and birds altogether.

The study also identifies areas where threats are especially prevalent. All six threats to amphibians, birds, and mammals pose a high risk of impact in Southeast Asia, particularly the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as Madagascar. Europe stood out as a region with a high threat impact for amphibians due to a combination of agriculture, invasive species, and pollution. Climate change is most likely to have an impact on the polar regions, the east coast of Australia, and South Africa, affecting birds in particular.

Location and intensity of global threats to biodiversity

According to Dr. Mike Harfoot of the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), one of the two lead authors of the paper: “We are in the midst of a global nature crisis, and the next ten years are critical for taking decisive action to combat biodiversity loss. Our findings reveal the location and magnitude of human-caused environmental threats. This data can help decision-makers at all levels identify where action to reduce these threats will have the greatest impact on people and the environment. With additional work, we will improve the accuracy and breadth of nature considered in this information.”

The authors also combined threat impact data with spatial information on biodiversity importance to create conservation risk maps that identify high-priority areas for threat mitigation to help guide conservation action. These maps are one tool that can be used to support and inform decision-making at the national and other levels as needed. The Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Australia’s east coast, Madagascar’s dry forest, the Albertine Rift and East Arc Mountains in eastern Africa, West Africa’s Guinean forests, the Atlantic Forest, the Amazon basin, and the Northern Andes into Panama and Costa Rica in South and Central America are among the areas identified.

“These maps also reveal that priority areas for one threat rarely overlap with that of other threats, implying that to effectively respond to the current human impact on biodiversity, we need a global response,” says Dr. Jonas Geldmann, Assistant Professor, Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate, University of Copenhagen, and co-lead author of this paper.

Dr. Piero Visconti, a study co-author who leads the Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group at IIASA, says: “Despite ubiquitous sensors and cutting-edge technology, we still know very little about the precise location and intensity of some of the most serious threats to species, such as hunting and trapping, as well as the presence of invasive species. On-the-ground surveys are essential for obtaining an accurate local picture of the distribution and impacts of these threats, but they are difficult and resource-intensive to conduct at the scale at which some conservation decisions are made. This analysis is a critical first step in efficiently directing local assessments of specific threats to terrestrial biodiversity and beginning to identify the most appropriate local solutions.”

The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will meet in Kunming, China, in 2022, and is expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework or a new global plan for nature. The research released today contributes to demonstrating the various types and geographic breadth of threats to terrestrial species, as well as the magnitude of the transformation challenge that the framework must deliver if we are to conserve life on Earth.