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Future threats to biodiversity and pathways to their prevention

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Abstract

Tens of thousands of species are threatened with extinction as a result of human activities. Here we explore how the extinction risks of terrestrial mammals and birds might change in the next 50 years. Future population growth and economic development are forecasted to impose unprecedented levels of extinction risk on many more species worldwide, especially the large mammals of tropical Africa, Asia and South America. Yet these threats are not inevitable. Proactive international efforts to increase crop yields, minimize land clearing and habitat fragmentation, and protect natural lands could increase food security in developing nations and preserve much of Earth's remaining biodiversity.

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Figure 1: Anthropogenic threats to mammals and birds and the role of body mass.
Figure 2: Diversity of mammals and birds worldwide and the extent of the extinction threat.
Figure 3: The current extent of large mammals and projected land clearing worldwide.
Figure 4: Projected growth rates for the human population and current crop yields worldwide.
Figure 5: Current and projected regional extinction risks for mammals and birds.
Figure 6: Potential benefits to biodiversity of proactive conservation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank N. Hartline for assistance with assembling data, J. Cowles and F. Isbell for their comments, and the Long Term Ecological Research programme of the US National Science Foundation, the International Balzan Prize Foundation, the McKnight Presidential Chair, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Santa Barbara for support. All data used in our analyses are publicly available from the original sources that we list or are in Supplementary Tables 3 and 4.

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Correspondence to David Tilman.

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Author Contributions D.T., D.R.W. and M.C. conceived the project and M.C. and D.R.W. assembled data; D.T., M.C. and D.R.W. analysed the data; D.T., D.R.W., C.P., M.C., S.P. and K.K. wrote the paper.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks C. Godfray, L. Joppa and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Tilman, D., Clark, M., Williams, D. et al. Future threats to biodiversity and pathways to their prevention. Nature 546, 73–81 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22900

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