Research highlight

International trade decreases bird biodiversity worldwide

Nature Ecology & Evolution

March 5, 2019

Human population growth and economic expansion drove an increasing number of bird species towards extinction and reduced carbon storage worldwide between 2000-2011, finds a study published online this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Economic development and population growth create demand for agricultural and forest products, increasing the conversion of natural habitats into useable land. Without sustainable management practices, these factors can negatively impact biodiversity and ecosystems processes (such as carbon storage).

Alexandra Marques and colleagues combined biophysical and economic models and estimate that between 2000 and 2011, the number of bird species at risk of extinction because of land-use activities could be as many as 121 species. (By comparison, an estimated 140 bird species have been lost globally since the beginning of the 16th century.)

During the same time period, the amount of carbon sequestration loss increased by 6%. Almost a third of bird extinctions could be attributed to cattle farming, but oil seed production (including palm and soy bean oil) was associated with the largest increases in biodiversity impacts. They also found that forestry activities for timber and wood fuel extraction reduced the potential for carbon storage by around 30%.

The authors linked international supply chains to demonstrate the increasing disconnect between where goods are produced and where they are consumed. They show that in 2011, 33% of biodiversity impacts in Central and South America and 26% in Africa were driven by consumption of goods in other parts of the world. In order to address the biodiversity crisis, the authors suggest that governments should recognise the impact that their economic activities have in different regions and promote a shift to economic development with low impacts on biodiversity worldwide.

doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-0824-3

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