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Research gaps in knowledge of the impact of urban growth on biodiversity


By 2030, an additional 1.2 billion people are forecast in urban areas globally. We review the scientific literature (n = 922 studies) to assess direct and indirect impacts of urban growth on habitat and biodiversity. Direct impacts are cumulatively substantial, with 290,000 km2 of natural habitat forecast to be converted to urban land uses between 2000 and 2030. Studies of direct impact are disproportionately from high-income countries. Indirect urban impacts on biodiversity, such as food consumption, affect a greater area than direct impacts, but comparatively few studies (34%) have quantified urban indirect impacts on biodiversity.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual diagram of direct and indirect impacts on urban areas.
Fig. 2: Direct impacts of urban growth on habitat over time.
Fig. 3: Forecast direct impacts of urban growth on habitat.
Fig. 4: Locations of research studies into urban impacts on biodiversity.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors thank the thousands of scientists whose data and papers have made this Review possible. This Review is a joint effort of the working group sUrbio2050 kindly supported by sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, funded by the German Research Foundation (FZT 118).

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Authors and Affiliations



Authors co-designed the literature review during a working group meeting. A.V.M. led the literature review, which all authors contributed to. R.I.M. wrote the initial version of this manuscript, with significant feedback and guidance from H.M.P. and A.V.M. All authors made substantial contributions to the intellectual content, analysis and interpretation of the literature review, and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Robert I. McDonald.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods.

Supplementary Table 1

Table S1. Forecasted urban-caused natural habitat loss, by country or other administrative unit (2000–2030). Results are sorted in descending order of the percentage of the total land area on which natural habitat was forecast to be lost to urban growth, from greatest to least urban impact. Small administrative units or other units with no data (for example, Antarctica) are not shown in this table.

Supplementary Table 2

Table S2. Forecasted urban-caused natural habitat loss, by biome and country-level income group (2000–2030). Results are sorted in descending order of the percentage of the total land area on which natural habitat was forecast to be lost to urban growth, from greatest to least urban impact.

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McDonald, R.I., Mansur, A.V., Ascensão, F. et al. Research gaps in knowledge of the impact of urban growth on biodiversity. Nat Sustain 3, 16–24 (2020).

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