Earth’s land-based biodiversity has taken a huge hit in the last century or so. According to researchers from London’s Natural History Museum, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and a number of British universities, the average ecosystem has lost 14% of its biodiversity.
By considering 26,593 species and comparing information submitted from around the world, as well as from over 280 publications, the researchers discovered that land change caused by humans, primarily through agricultural production, has drastically changed biodiversity since about 1500 CE. The most significant changes have come in the last century. If human activity continues as it has, future losses will come from economically poor countries, and that we could continue losing as much as 3.5% of land based species, per year, through 2100.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. While the losses to land-based biodiversity would be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome, we can slow down or even stop the problem from getting worse. It is possible, researchers claim, that we could undo much of the damage over the last 50 years or so. Extinct species likely won’t come back, but we might be able to reintroduce animals and plants to regions they once inhabited, or shore up the existing populations.
Fighting global climate change would be a big part of that process, as it can impact environments and ecologies worldwide. Andy Purvis, the project’s lead scientist, suggests that properly valuing and maintaining existing forests would go a long way toward undoing some of the damage. Forests contains a bewildering amount of biodiversity, perhaps unmatched by any other type of land-based environment. They also have an effect on global climate, as they help stabilize temperatures in different regions.
Human actions like clear-cutting have had a dreadful impact on forests, wiping out entire ecosystems so we can grow more crops and graze more livestock. Although we have learned a great deal about the importance of forests and other ecosystems, many of our agricultural practices are still heavily damaging, and need to be revised.