Habitat destruction has reduced the variety of plants and animals to the point that ecological systems could become unable to function properly, with risks for agriculture and human health, say scientists. The variety of animals and plants has fallen to dangerous levels across more than half of the world’s landmass due to humanity destroying habitats to use as farmland. The unchecked loss of biodiversity is akin to playing ecological roulette and will set back efforts to bring people out of poverty in the long term, they warned. The decline is not just bad news for the species but in the long term could spell problems for human health and economies.
“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Prof Andy Purvis, of the Natural History Museum, and one of the authors. “Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”
“If ecosystem functions don’t continue, then yes it affects the ability of agriculture to sustain human populations and we simply don’t know at which point that will be reached,” said Dr Tim Newbold, lead author of the work and a research associate at University College London. “We are entering the zone of uncertainty.” He added that while to an extent people could use technological solutions to replicate the functions of nature, such as pollinators, there were limits to how much humans could compensate for the loss of species. “Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development.”
The study found that different types of habitat had lost more biodiversity where they were biomes that humans lived in, such as grasslands. The biggest cause of natural habitats being changed was due to agriculture, rather than urbanisation.