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Some Biodiversity Loss Can Be Reversed: Study

Apr 06, 2015 01:15 PM EDT
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It has been suggested that climate change threatens biodiversity worldwide, but now new hopeful research claims that some biodiversity loss can be reversed.

That is, according to findings published in the journal Nature, which say that even though humanity's use of land for agricultural production has come at a cost to local ecosystems worldwide, some of the damage can be undone.

A global network of contributors has submitted data from every continent, providing the most complete picture yet of the effects of land-use by humans. The team of scientists assessed changes in biodiversity from the year 1500 until today, looking at approximately 26,593 species.

They found that by 2005, land-use change had caused the average number of species to decrease by 14 percent in local ecosystems, compared to the pre-industrial era. So, in many areas, biodiversity has dropped by 20 to 30 percent, whereas areas such as the Congo may have actually seen an increase in biodiversity.

What's more, the majority of that biodiversity loss has occurred in the last 100 years alone. And if human impacts continue to grow at their current rate, future losses in biodiversity will continue to grow, especially in biodiverse, but economically poor countries.

"The worst-case scenario we have mapped would have a severe impact upon most regions of the planet. Our models predict that rapid agricultural expansion, particularly in poorer countries, will cause rapid further losses of biodiversity. However, other scenarios give a much more positive outcome for biodiversity, especially for poorer countries," lead study author Tim Newbold, from the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, explained in a statement.

Researchers found that the worst-affected areas had lost one in three of their species, enough to substantially impact the functioning of those environments.

"These findings are a significant milestone in understanding our impact on the planet. They show that what happens next is completely down to us. If we carry on as we are, numbers of species will fall by nearly 3.5% on average by 2100," added lead scientist Andy Purvis of London's Natural History Museum. "But if society takes concerted action, and reduces climate change by valuing forests properly, then by the end of the century we can undo the last 50 years of damage to biodiversity on land."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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