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Reduced ecological resilience jeopardizes zero loss of biodiversity using the mitigation hierarchy


One proposal for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s post-2020 strategic plan is ‘zero loss’ of natural habitats. However, the feasibility of zero loss was questioned during the Trondheim Conference for Biodiversity, and it was suggested that biodiversity losses are instead balanced by compensatory efforts (that is, ‘no net loss’). The focus on net outcomes is echoed by separate calls for a global mitigation hierarchy to deliver no net biodiversity loss and accommodate both conservation and development goals. Here we show that ‘no net loss’ is not the same as ‘zero loss’. We use a delayed differential model of nonlinear habitat dynamics to demonstrate how applying the mitigation hierarchy for net biodiversity outcomes will lead to biodiversity declines by midcentury. Delayed compensation of human impacts reduces ecological resilience and causes prolonged biodiversity losses. These effects are greatest when impacts are large and compensation delays are long. Our results support the use of fixed targets, rather than net outcomes, as part of the post-2020 biodiversity framework.

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Fig. 1: Habitat loss from human impacts affects ecological dynamics.
Fig. 2: The mitigation of habitat loss in a system with self-reinforcing vegetated and bare states.
Fig. 3: The effect of mitigation multipliers on achieving zero loss.

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We thank M. Maron and J. Bull for their comments.

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F.B. designed the study and ran the simulations, with input from S.B. Both authors wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Falko Buschke.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Section 1: Nonlinear dynamics of delayed mitigation for a population with a carrying capacity and Allee effects. Supplementary Section 2: Choice of values and sensitivity analysis for free parameters in the time-delayed mitigation model.

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Buschke, F., Brownlie, S. Reduced ecological resilience jeopardizes zero loss of biodiversity using the mitigation hierarchy. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 815–819 (2020).

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