Without urgent action, the current global food system could drive rapid and widespread biodiversity loss, new research has found.
Researchers from the University of Leeds and Oxford linked projections of how much agricultural land each country will need with a new model which estimates where agricultural expansion is most likely to occur.
The research revealed that if we continue on the current trajectory then by 2050 millions of square kilometres of natural habitats could be lost and nearly 1,300 species are likely to lose at least a quarter of their remaining habitat.
However, because many of the species that are most likely to be affected are not currently listed as threatened with extinction, the researchers have highlighted that they are unlikely to be currently targeted by conservationists.
The researchers then examined the potential impact of making ambitious changes to our food chain, from reducing food waste to increasing crop yield and found that the benefits varied.
For example, raising agricultural yields would likely bring huge benefits to biodiversity in Sub-Saharan Africa, but do very little in North America where yields are already high.
The researchers hope that this approach will enable policymakers and conservationists to identify which changes are likely to have the largest benefit in their country or region.
Dr Michael Clark, the lead author of the paper, said: ‘As international biodiversity targets are set to be updated in 2021, these results highlight the importance of proactive efforts to safeguard biodiversity by reducing demand for agricultural land.
‘Discussions on slowing and reversing biodiversity often focus on conventional conservation actions, such as establishing new protected areas or species-specific legislation for threatened species. These are absolutely needed and have been effective at conserving biodiversity.
‘However, our research emphasises the importance of also reducing the ultimate stresses to biodiversity—such as agricultural expansion.
‘The good news is that if we make ambitious changes to the food system, then we can prevent almost all these habitat losses.’
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