‘More action’ needed to avoid mass extinction, says global team of experts

Team of over a thousand experts say ‘greatly increasing conservation investments’ needed to remove the threat of extinction for one in three species

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Monday 18 July 2022 15:13 BST
Raising the alarm. Golden lion tamarins are an endangered species native to the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil
Raising the alarm. Golden lion tamarins are an endangered species native to the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil (Getty)

"Multiple drivers of biodiversity loss" are damaging the world’s ecosystems and more action needs to be taken to avoid mass extinctions of species, a panel of experts has warned.

Over a thousand experts on a broad swathe of our planet’s plant and animal life and the ecosystems they live in have collaborated on research which reveals that more species may be threatened than previously thought.

Together the study estimates that since the year 1500, 30 per cent of all species have been threatened with extinction or driven extinct.

Furthermore, if current trends continue, this could increase to 37 per cent by 2100.

The 60 authors of the research paper said that with swift and extensive conservation efforts, this number of species facing extinction could be lowered to 25 per cent, they said.

The greatest causes of biodiversity loss are the climate crisis, pollution, and land- and sea-use change and exploitation, they said.

“Biodiversity loss is one of our biggest environmental challenges in the world, probably more important than climate change," said Professor Johannes Knops, a researcher at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, and one of the study’s authors.

"The problem of climate change can be corrected by stopping the emission of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you lose a species, it’s gone forever,” he said.

The collaborative research project is one of the first studies to bring together diverse geographical and demographic data from thousands of international biodiversity experts.

The authors said they aimed to identify knowledge gaps and differences in expert opinion across the field of biodiversity.

Each expert’s perspective contributed to a total assessment of the world’s biodiversity loss and the most influential factors affecting ecosystems.

"There was an overwhelming consensus that global biodiversity loss will likely limit functioning and nature’s contributions to people," the team said.

However, they said that "greatly increasing conservation investments and efforts now" could remove the threat of extinction for one in three species which may otherwise be threatened or extinct by the year 2100.

“Biodiversity loss occurs in many different places, and there are gaps in our common understanding of it," said Professor Knops.

"This collaboration can help us reach a consensus on where to make efforts to improve biodiversity.”

“Every species has its own food chain and needs to interact with other species in ecosystems, each of which is important to the ecosystem. That is why we should be concerned about biodiversity loss.”

One of the key elements of the study was to ensure that experts who took part were from varied backgrounds, including many from groups that are underrepresented in biodiversity science, such as women and those from the Global South.

This broad range reveals important differences in experts’ estimates and recommendations, the team said.

Previous work has suggested the demographic of experts and geographical location of studies can affect attitudes on land use, Professor Knops said.

“Current land-use strategies for increasing biodiversity include land sharing and land sparing.

“The land sharing strategy focuses on thinking about how agriculture and cities can co-exist with biodiversity, while the land sparing strategy expands the size of protected areas to increase biodiversity while maintaining intensive agricultural practices elsewhere," he said.

“Historically, there has been a greater emphasis on land sparing and making nature reserves, which was put forth predominantly by North American and European white males.

"Women and people in China, South America and Africa, place more emphasis on land sharing. These findings suggest that maybe there’s disproportionate focus on land sparing, and there should be more consideration of land sharing,” Professor Knops said.

The authors said they hope to encourage more researchers to use the study to understand the global perspective on biodiversity loss and to include more diverse viewpoints in future research.

The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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