Letter

Global forest loss disproportionately erodes biodiversity in intact landscapes

  • Nature volume 547, pages 441444 (27 July 2017)
  • doi:10.1038/nature23285
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Abstract

Global biodiversity loss is a critical environmental crisis, yet the lack of spatial data on biodiversity threats has hindered conservation strategies1. Theory predicts that abrupt biodiversity declines are most likely to occur when habitat availability is reduced to very low levels in the landscape (10–30%)2,3,4. Alternatively, recent evidence indicates that biodiversity is best conserved by minimizing human intrusion into intact and relatively unfragmented landscapes5. Here we use recently available forest loss data6 to test deforestation effects on International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List categories of extinction risk for 19,432 vertebrate species worldwide. As expected, deforestation substantially increased the odds of a species being listed as threatened, undergoing recent upgrading to a higher threat category and exhibiting declining populations. More importantly, we show that these risks were disproportionately high in relatively intact landscapes; even minimal deforestation has had severe consequences for vertebrate biodiversity. We found little support for the alternative hypothesis that forest loss is most detrimental in already fragmented landscapes. Spatial analysis revealed high-risk hot spots in Borneo, the central Amazon and the Congo Basin. In these regions, our model predicts that 121–219 species will become threatened under current rates of forest loss over the next 30 years. Given that only 17.9% of these high-risk areas are formally protected and only 8.9% have strict protection, new large-scale conservation efforts to protect intact forests7,8 are necessary to slow deforestation rates and to avert a new wave of global extinctions.

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Acknowledgements

Funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF-DEB-1457837) and the College of Forestry IWFL Professorship in Forest Biodiversity Research to M.G.B. supported this research. We are grateful for comments from A. Hadley, U. Kormann, J. Bowman, C. Epps and C. Mendenhall on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Matthew G. Betts
    •  & Christopher Wolf

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Forest Biodiversity Research Network, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Matthew G. Betts
    • , Christopher Wolf
    • , William J. Ripple
    • , Ben Phalan
    •  & Taal Levi
  2. Global Trophic Cascades Program, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Matthew G. Betts
    • , Christopher Wolf
    •  & William J. Ripple
  3. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

    • Ben Phalan
    •  & Stuart H. M. Butchart
  4. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Kimberley A. Millers
    •  & Taal Levi
  5. Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Adam Duarte
  6. BirdLife International, David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK

    • Stuart H. M. Butchart

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Contributions

M.G.B., C.W., S.H.M.B., W.J.R. and T.L. conceived the study, C.W., M.G.B. and T.L. analysed the data, and M.G.B. and C.W. wrote the first draft of the paper with subsequent editorial input from C.W., B.P., S.H.M.B., K.A.M. and A.D.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Matthew G. Betts or Christopher Wolf.

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

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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    Supplementary Information

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