Life Science Environment Land clearing to cause destruction of habitats for 90 per cent of wildlife
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Land clearing to cause destruction of habitats for 90 per cent of wildlife

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As many as nine in 10 animals around the world will have fewer places to roam and build homes by 2050, a new study predicts.

To meet the projected food demand of the world’s growing population, between two and 10 million square kilometres of new land will need to be cleared over the next three decades.

But when we clear this land to make way for farming, we will displace 90 per cent of its animal inhabitants, according to the modelling of David Williams, Michael Clark and their colleagues at the UK’s University of Leeds.

These animals are likely to die.

The researchers analysed the impact of agricultural expansion on almost 20,000 species and found 17,409 of the terrestrial bird, amphibian and mammal species might lose some habitat by 2050.

More than 1200 species are projected to lose more than a quarter of their remaining natural environment, the study published in the journal Nature Sustainability found.

Only 6 per cent of species – the majority of which are birds – would be able to survive on land used for agriculture.

An insurmountable impact

Large-scale destruction of important habitats is expected in sub-Sahara Africa, the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, eastern Argentina and parts of south and South-East Asia.

Bushfires have caused significant habitat destruction in Australia. Photo: Getty

The impact could be lessened.

If abandoned agricultural land was left to be re-established to its natural state, it would only save the lives of little more than 3000 species.

Once natural habitats are destroyed, the researchers say the process of bringing these lands back to how they once were may take decades.

And the potential increases in land for some species were far outweighed by projected losses in habitat area for others.

“Allowing for habitat recovery or restoration after agricultural abandonment has a minor impact on the overall projections of widespread habitat loss across all species examined,” the researchers wrote.

That is why it is so important to implement proactive policies to reduce habitat destruction in the first instance.

Small decreases in agricultural land were projected in Australia, Europe, central and northern Asia, China and New Zealand.

Research and innovation key

So how does the world meet its increasing demand for food without clearing so much land?

Brazil is expected to experience mass land clearing over the next 30 years. Photo: Getty

The researchers suggested closing crop yield gaps globally, a global transition to healthier diets, halving food loss and waste, and global agricultural land-use planning to avoid competition between food production and habitat protection.

Through employing all four approaches, the researchers projected that global cropland would decline by 6.7 million square kilometres by 2050.

“We also projected that under the combined approach all regions would see mean habitat losses of 1 per cent or less by 2050,” the study said.

“Our approach and results are immediately relevant to international efforts for the development of new strategic goals and targets for 2030 and 2050 under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021.”