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Increasing impacts of land use on biodiversity and carbon sequestration driven by population and economic growth

Matters Arising to this article was published on 04 November 2019


Biodiversity and ecosystem service losses driven by land-use change are expected to intensify as a growing and more affluent global population requires more agricultural and forestry products, and teleconnections in the global economy lead to increasing remote environmental responsibility. By combining global biophysical and economic models, we show that, between the years 2000 and 2011, overall population and economic growth resulted in increasing total impacts on bird diversity and carbon sequestration globally, despite a reduction of land-use impacts per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). The exceptions were North America and Western Europe, where there was a reduction of forestry and agriculture impacts on nature accentuated by the 2007–2008 financial crisis. Biodiversity losses occurred predominantly in Central and Southern America, Africa and Asia with international trade an important and growing driver. In 2011, 33% of Central and Southern America and 26% of Africa’s biodiversity impacts were driven by consumption in other world regions. Overall, cattle farming is the major driver of biodiversity loss, but oil seed production showed the largest increases in biodiversity impacts. Forestry activities exerted the highest impact on carbon sequestration, and also showed the largest increase in the 2000–2011 period. Our results suggest that to address the biodiversity crisis, governments should take an equitable approach recognizing remote responsibility, and promote a shift of economic development towards activities with low biodiversity impacts.

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Fig. 1: Production impacts on biodiversity and carbon sequestration per economic sectors.
Fig. 2: Decomposition of changes in impacts of agriculture and forestry on biodiversity and carbon sequestration into the contribution of the changes in population, GDP per capita and impact per GDP.
Fig. 3: GDP per capita (in constant 2011 international dollars) and per capita impacts on biodiversity and carbon sequestration, per world region.
Fig. 4: Biodiversity and carbon sequestration impacts embodied in international trade.

Data availability

The authors declare that all the data, except the land use spatially explicit dataset, supporting the findings of this study are available in the paper and its supplementary information files. The land-use spatially explicit dataset and the computer code used in this work are available upon request.


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Authors would like to thank the financial support provided by EU-FP7 project DESIRE (project no. FP7-ENV-2012–308552). K.H.E. and T.K. have been funded by the Austrian Science Fund project GELUC (project no. P29130), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) project no. KA 4815/1-1 and ERC grant (ERC-2010–263522 LUISE). K.H.E., T.K. and C.P. have been funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) through project no. ESR17-014. T.K. acknowledges support from the Swedish Research Council Formas (project no. 231–2014–1181). M.A.J.H. was supported by the ERC grant (ERC—CoG SIZE 647224).

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All authors provided input into the final manuscript. A.M., I.S.M., M.B., M.A.J.H., T.K., K.E. and H.M.P. designed the study. A.M., I.S.M., T.K., C.P., M.T., N.E., K.H.E., R.W. and K.S. contributed data. A.M., I.S.M. and T.K. performed the analysis. A.M. and H.M.P. wrote the paper with help from all the authors and coordinated the study.

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Correspondence to Alexandra Marques.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7 and Supplementary Tables 1, 11–13, and 16

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Supplementary Tables 2–10, 14, 15, and 17–19

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Marques, A., Martins, I.S., Kastner, T. et al. Increasing impacts of land use on biodiversity and carbon sequestration driven by population and economic growth. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 628–637 (2019).

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