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Avely Pütsep / 18 December, 2020

Terrestrial biodiversity is in trouble because of us

The world's population will hit 10 billion by 2050, according to a UN report. That means that by 2050, we will have two billion more people on earth who will struggle with loss of freshwater, depletion of natural resources and an increased threat of epidemics and pandemics, to name just a few. 

Protecting terrestrial biodiversity, a subject you will read about below, might just be that which will save us. 

Importance of terrestrial biodiversity

Terrestrial biodiversity is the variety of life forms on the land surface of the Earth. A high biodiversity is usually seen as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, which has been seen as a direct link to human health. 

According to the AXA Research Fund publication, animals and plants are responsible for many vital services our lives depend on, including:

  • oxygen production,

  • water regulation,

  • soil retaining,

  • providing flood protection.

As the population approaches the big 10, it is more important than ever to protect the vital services that keep us alive.

Terrestrial biodiversity is in trouble 

Biodiversity, as a part of nature, is naturally also affected by nature. Some biodiversity loss is because of occurrences such as seasonal changes or ecological disturbances (wildfires, floods, etc), but these effects are usually temporary and ecosystems have managed to adapt to these threats. Human-driven biodiversity loss, in contrast, tends to be more severe and longer-lasting

Increased efforts are needed to prevent further losses to terrestrial biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Terrestrial biodiversity is decreasing rapidly through habitat loss: a process where a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species that are as a result either displaced or killed. 

The sad reality is that a lot of the land that used to be a natural habitat of these native species is turned into land used for agriculture and forestry. Is it too late to stop the decrease or do we still have a chance?

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How to bend the curve of terrestrial biodiversity? 

A study published in Nature tried to find answers. 

To reverse biodiversity trends, we require an urgent adoption of a conservation plan that retrains the remaining biodiversity and restores degraded areas. The plan consists of three key efforts:

  • The conservation efforts of land include increasing the extent of land, managing protected areas, restoring areas, and planning landscape-level conservation. 

  • Supply-side efforts are increasing the productivity of land in agricultural use and agricultural goods trade.

  • Demand-side efforts mean reducing waste in the food system and shifts in human diets halving the consumption of animal products in regions that the consumption is currently high in. 

For a successful biodiversity strategy, conservation efforts need to be combined with supply-side or demand-side efforts. Only with effective management for biodiversity, restoration efforts beyond the target and a generalization of land-use planning, and landscape approaches can this strategy lead to a scenario where we can expand the terrestrial areas up to 40%. 

Even though the actions explored in the study are not perfect, they remain essential for the reversal of terrestrial biodiversity trends.

Biodiversity curve

What now?

There is no doubt the human race has played a big role in the rapid increase of terrestrial biodiversity and continues to do so. Ironically, we are also stopping the problem from getting under control: the growing population needs more and more food and therefore more land is turned into agricultural land. 

However, this study shows that immediate efforts consistent with a broader sustainability agenda, but of unprecedented ambition and coordination, can enable the provision of food while reversing the global biodiversity loss trends. 

Looks like there is hope after all.