International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations

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Human activities are causing Earth’s sixth major extinction event1—an accelerating decline of the world’s stocks of biological diversity at rates 100 to 1,000 times pre-human levels2. Historically, low-impact intrusion into species habitats arose from local demands for food, fuel and living space3. However, in today’s increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption. Although adverse effects of economic prosperity and economic inequality have been confirmed4, 5, the importance of international trade as a driver of threats to species is poorly understood. Here we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. We linked 25,000 Animalia species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries and evaluated more than 5billion supply chains in terms of their biodiversity impacts. Excluding invasive species, we found that 30% of global species threats are due to international trade. In many developed countries, the consumption of imported coffee, tea, sugar, textiles, fish and other manufactured items causes a biodiversity footprint that is larger abroad than at home. Our results emphasize the importance of examining biodiversity loss as a global systemic phenomenon, instead of looking at the degrading or polluting producers in isolation. We anticipate that our findings will facilitate better regulation, sustainable supply-chain certification and consumer product labelling.

At a glance


  1. Top net importers and exporters of biodiversity threats.
    Figure 1: Top net importers and exporters of biodiversity threats.

    In importer countries marked with an asterisk, the biodiversity footprint rests more abroad then domestically; that is, more species are threatened by implicated imports than are threatened by domestic production.

  2. Selected net exporters.
    Figure 2: Selected net exporters.

    Selected net exporters and final destinations of biodiversity-implicated commodities.

  3. Flow map of threats to species.
    Figure 3: Flow map of threats to species.

    Flow map of threats to species caused by exports from Malaysia (reds) and imports into Germany (blues). Note that the lines directly link the producing countries, where threats are recorded, and final consumer countries. Supply-chain links in intermediate countries are accounted for but not explicitly visualized. An interactive version is available at


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  1. ISA, School of Physics A28, The University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • M. Lenzen,
    • D. Moran,
    • K. Kanemoto,
    • B. Foran,
    • L. Lobefaro &
    • A. Geschke
  2. Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8579, Japan

    • K. Kanemoto
  3. Institute of Land Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales 2640, Australia

    • B. Foran
  4. Department of Business and Law Studies, I Faculty of Economics, University of Bari Aldo Moro, 70124 Bari, Italy

    • L. Lobefaro


M.L. and D.M. conducted the analysis and prepared the figures. M.L., D.M. and B.F. wrote the paper. K.K., L.L. and A.G. prepared the data.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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