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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.67 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision (United Nations Population Division, 2018).
Seto, K., Guneralp, B. & Hutyra, L. Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon pools. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 16083–16088 (2012).
Güneralp, B. & Seto, K. Futures of global urban expansion: uncertainties and implications for biodiversity conservation. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014025 (2013).
McDonald, R. et al. Nature in the Urban Century: A Global Assessment of Where and How to Conserve Nature for Biodiversity and Human Wellbeing (The Nature Conservancy, 2018).
Elmqvist, T. et al. Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities, a Global Assessment (Springer, 2013).
Angel, S., Blei, A. M., Civco, D. L. & Parent, J. Atlas of Urban Expansion (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2012).
Satterthwaite, D. in United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Population Distribution, Urbanization, Internal Migration and Development ESA/P/WP.206 (ed. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division) 309–334 (United Nations, 2008).
Güneralp, B. et al. Global scenarios of urban density and its impacts on building energy use through 2050. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 8945–8950 (2017).
Flörke, M., Schneider, C. & McDonald, R. I. Water competition between cities and agriculture driven by climate change and urban growth. Nat. Sustain. 1, 51–58 (2018).
Regmi, A. & Dyck, J. in Changing Structure of Global Food Consumption and Trade WRS-01-1 (ed. Regmi, A.) 23–30 (Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA, 2001).
Cole, M. A. & Neumayer, E. Examining the impact of demographic factors on air pollution. Popul. Environ. 26, 5–21 (2004).
Dyson, T. The role of the demographic transition in the process of urbanization. Popul. Dev. Rev. 37, 34–54 (2011).
World Bank (Oxford University Press, 2009).
Land Cover CCI Product User Guide Version 2.0 (European Space Agency, 2017); www.esa-landcover-cci.org
Redefining "Urban": A New Way to Measure Metropolitan Areas (OECD, 2012).
CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010).
Díaz, S. et al. Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 1–39 (United Nations, 2019).
Pereira, H. M. et al. Scenarios for global biodiversity in the 21st century. Science 330, 1496–1501 (2010).
Pimm, S. L. et al. The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. Science 344, 1246752 (2014).
Ceballos, G. et al. Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: entering the sixth mass extinction. Sci. Adv. 1, e1400253 (2015).
McDonald, R. I. Ecosystem service demand and supply along the urban-to-rural gradient. J. Conserv. Plan. 5, 1–14 (2009).
Aronson, M. F. et al. A global analysis of the impacts of urbanization on bird and plant diversity reveals key anthropogenic drivers. Proc. R. Soc. B 281, 20133330 (2014).
Alberti, M. et al. Global urban signatures of phenotypic change in animal and plant populations. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 8951–8956 (2017).
UN Habitat Cities and Climate Change: Global Report on Human Settlements 2011 (Earthscan, 2011).
Frey, H. Designing the City: Towards a More Sustainable Urban Form (Taylor & Francis, 2003).
Alberti, M. et al. The impact of urban patterns on aquatic ecosystems: an empirical analysis in Puget lowland sub-basins. Landsc. Urban Plan. 80, 345–361 (2007).
Kennedy, C., Pincetl, S. & Bunje, P. The study of urban metabolism and its applications to urban planning and design. Environ. Pollut. 159, 1965–1973 (2011).
Montgomery, M., Stren, R., Cohen, B. & Reed, H. E. Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and its Implications in the Developing World (National Academies Press, 2003).
Lynch, K. Good City Form (MIT Press, 1984).
Mumford, L. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (Harvest Books, 1968).
Gaspar, J. & Glaeser, E. L. Information technology and the future of cities. J. Urban Econ. 43, 136–156 (1998).
Sanderson, E. W., Walston, J. & Robinson, J. G. From bottleneck to breakthrough: urbanization and the future of biodiversity conservation. BioScience 68, 412–426 (2018).
Van Der Waals, J. The compact city and the environment: a review. Tijdschr. Econ. Soc. Geogr. 91, 111–121 (2000).
McDonald, R. I. Global urbanization: can ecologists identify a sustainable way forward? Front. Ecol. Environ. 6, 99–104 (2008).
Seto, K. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to theFifth Assessment Report (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) 923–1000 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014).
Meyer, S. B. & Lunnay, B. The application of abductive and retroductive inference for the design and analysis of theory-driven sociological research. Sociol. Res. Online 18, 1–11 (2013).
Ferraro, P. J., Sanchirico, J. N. & Smith, M. D. Causal inference in coupled human and natural systems. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 5311–5318 (2019).
McDonald, R. I. in Encyclopedia of Biodiversity 2nd edn (ed. Levin, S.) (Academic Press, 2013).
NRC Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and its Implication in the Developing World (National Academies Press, 2003).
Jiang, L. & O’Neill, B. C. Global urbanization projections for the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. Global Environmental Change 42, 193–199 (2017).
Jones, B. & O’Neill, B. Spatially explicit global population scenarios consistent with the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 084003 (2016).
Pesaresi, M., Melchiorri, M., Siragusa, A. & Kemper, T. Atlas of the Human Planet 2016: Mapping Human Presence on Earth with the Global Human Settlement Layer (European Commission, 2016).
Angel, S. et al. Our Not-So-Urban World Working Paper No. 42 (The Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, 2018); https://go.nature.com/2qnGrJ2
Schneider, A., Friedl, M. A. & Potere, D. A new map of global urban extent from MODIS satellite data. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 0044003 (2009).
d’Amour, C. B. et al. Future urban land expansion and implications for global croplands. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 8939–8944 (2017).
Güneralp, B., Lwasa, S., Masundire, H., Parnell, S. & Seto, K. Urbanization in Africa: challenges and opportunities for conservation. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 015002 (2017).
Angel, S., Parent, J., Civco, D. L., Blei, A. & Potere, D. The dimensions of global urban expansion: estimates and projections for all countries, 2000–2050. Progress Plan. 75, 53–107 (2011).
Zhou, Y., Varquez, A. C. & Kanda, M. High-resolution global urban growth projection based on multiple applications of the SLEUtH urban growth model. Sci. Data 6, 34 (2019).
Doxsey-Whitfield, E. et al. Taking advantage of the improved availability of census data: a first look at the gridded population of the world, version 4. Papers Appl. Geogr. 1, 226–234 (2015).
UNPD Household Size and Composition Around the World (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2017).
Theobald, D. M. Landscape patterns of exurban growth in the USA from 1980 to 2020. Ecol. Soc. 10, 32 (2005).
Theobald, D. M. Land-use dynamics beyond the American urban fringes. Geogr. Rev. 91, 544–564 (2001).
McDonald, R. I., Güneralp, B., Huang, C.-W., Seto, K. & You, M. Conservation priorities to protect vertebrate endemics from global urban expansion. Biol. Conserv. 224, 290–299 (2018).
Luck, G. W. A review of the relationships between human population density and biodiversity. Biol. Rev. 82, 607–645 (2007).
Luck, G. W. The relationships between net primary productivity, human population density and species conservation. J. Biogeogr. 34, 201–212 (2007).
Burgess, N. D. et al. Correlations among species distributions, human density and human infrastructure across the high biodiversity tropical mountains of Africa. Biol. Conserv. 134, 164–177 (2007).
Polaina, E., González-Suárez, M. & Revilla, E. Socioeconomic correlates of global mammalian conservation status. Ecosphere 6, 1–34 (2015).
Shochat, E. et al. Invasion, competition, and biodiversity loss in urban ecosystems. BioScience 60, 199–208 (2010).
Faeth, S. H., Bang, C. & Saari, S. Urban biodiversity: patterns and mechanisms. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1223, 69–81 (2011).
Newbold, T. et al. Global effects of land use on local terrestrial biodiversity. Nature 520, 45–50 (2015).
Weller, R., Hoch, C. & Huang, C. Atlas for the End of the World http://atlas-for-the-end-of-the-world.com (2017).
Conde, D. A. et al. Opportunities and costs for preventing vertebrate extinctions. Curr. Biol. 25, R219–R221 (2015).
Güneralp, B., Perlstein, A. S. & Seto, K. C. Balancing urban growth and ecological conservation: a challenge for planning and governance in China. Ambio 44, 532–543 (2015).
Baillie, J. E. M., Griffiths, J., Turvey, S., Loh, J. & Collen, B. Evolution Lost Status & Trends of the World’s Vertebrates (Zoological Society of London, 2010).
Eisenhauer, N., Bonn, A. & Guerra, C. A. Recognizing the quiet extinction of invertebrates. Nat. Commun 10, 50 (2019).
Girgin, S., Kazanci, N. & Dügel, M. Relationship between aquatic insects and heavy metals in an urban stream using multivariate techniques. Int. J. Environ. Sci. Technol. 7, 653–664 (2010).
Carvalho, L., Cortes, R. & Bordalo, A. A. Evaluation of the ecological status of an impaired watershed by using a multi-index approach. Environ. Monit. Assess. 174, 493–508 (2011).
Violin, C. R. et al. Effects of urbanization and urban stream restoration on the physical and biological structure of stream ecosystems. Ecol. Appl. 21, 1932–1949 (2011).
Carew, M. E., Kellar, C. R., Pettigrove, V. J. & Hoffmann, A. A. Can high-throughput sequencing detect macroinvertebrate diversity for routine monitoring of an urban river? Ecol. Indic. 85, 440–450 (2018).
Güneralp, B., Seto, K. C. & Ramachandran, M. Evidence of urban land teleconnections and impacts on hinterlands. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 5, 445–451 (2013).
Seto, K. C. et al. Urban land teleconnections and sustainability. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 7687–7692 (2012).
Zimmerer, K., Lambin, E. & Vanek, S. Smallholder telecoupling and potential sustainability. Ecol. Soc. 23, 30 (2018).
Luck, M. A., Jenerette, G. D., Wu, J. & Grimm, N. B. The urban funnel model and the spatially heterogeneous ecological footprint. Ecosystems 4, 782–796 (2001).
Moore, J., Kissinger, M. & Rees, W. E. An urban metabolism and ecological footprint assessment of Metro Vancouver. J. Environ. Manag. 124, 51–61 (2013).
Zhang, Y., Yang, Z. & Yu, X. Urban metabolism: a review of current knowledge and directions for future study. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 11247–11263 (2015).
FAO FAOSTAT Agri-Environmental Indicators (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016).
Popkin, B. M. Urbanization, lifestyle changes and the nutrition transition. World Dev. 27, 1905–1916 (1999).
Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases: Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation Vol. 916 (World Health Organization, 2003).
Matson, P. A., Parton, W. J., Power, A. & Swift, M. Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science 277, 504–509 (1997).
Chaplin-Kramer, R. et al. Spatial patterns of agricultural expansion determine impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 7402–7407 (2015).
Seto, K. C. & Ramankutty, N. Hidden linkages between urbanization and food systems. Science 352, 943–945 (2016).
Platt, R. H., Rowntree, R. A. & Muick, P. C. The Ecological City: Preserving and Restoring Urban Biodiversity (Univ. Massachusetts Press, 1994).
Muller, N., Werner, P. & Kelcey, J. G. Urban Biodiversity and Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).
Beatley, T. Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning (Island Press, 2010).
Steiner, F., Thompson, G. & Carbonell, A. Nature and Cities (The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, 2016).
Nagendra, H., Bai, X., Brondizio, E. S. & Lwasa, S. The urban south and the predicament of global sustainability. Nat. Sustain. 1, 341–349 (2018).
Schwarze, R., Niles, J. O. & Olander, J. Understanding and managing leakage in forest–based greenhouse–gas–mitigation projects. Philos. Trans. Royal Soc. A 360, 1685–1703 (2002).
Fang, C., Liu, H. & Li, G. International progress and evaluation on interactive coupling effects between urbanization and the eco-environment. J. Geogr. Sci. 26, 1081–1116 (2016).
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).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0436-6