Balbina Dam flooded 3,129 square kilometers of tropical rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon. This hydroelectric reservoir is located in the core of the distribution of jaguars. Credit: E. M. Venticinque.
New research just published, finds hydropower development to satisfy the growing human demand for energy has become one of the major drivers of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation everywhere. The dams create massive reservoirs, which drown out the homes of many creatures, including these top predators.
A jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal, the largest tropical wetland habitat in the world. Credit: Steve Winter/National Geographic.
The scientists found no less than 164 dams intruding on more than 25 thousand square kilometres of jaguar range in Latin America. Sadly, plans show that number could well triple into the future.
Tigers in Sumatra are a critically endangered subspecies, which face additional threats from two hydropower dams planned to be constructed within their habitat. Credit: Pete Morris.
Four hundred and twenty-one dams we’re found to be ruining or damaging almost 14 thousand square kilometres of tiger habitat in Asia.
While only forty-one dams are planned in the territorial range of tigers, they will still infringe on conservation areas considered important for their conservation.
Chiew Larn reservoir flooded 165 square kilometers of tropical forests in southern Thailand. Shortly after the inundation of this hydroelectric reservoir, tigers disappeared from the landscape. Credit: Nick Grady-Grot.
Researchers conclude that, even though the risks such projects pose to both land habitat and freshwater biodiversity are already known, they’re rarely taken into account.
As a result of their findings, just published in the journal “Communications Biology,” they call for “a more cautious pursuit of hydropower in topographically flat regions, to avoid extensive habitat loss and degradation.”
A third of the planet's agricultural land is at "high risk" of pesticide pollution from the lingering residue of chemical ingredients that can leach into water supplies and threaten biodiversity, according to research published Monday. Story here.
The Great Egret in a wetland in southwestern Manitoba, Canada. Canadian populations are said to be declining. For decades, the egrets have had to contend with major habitat loss and degradation, as well as threats like contaminated runoff from farm fields. A PinP photo.
Restoring 30% of the world’s ecosystems in priority areas could stave off more than 70% of projected extinctions and absorb nearly half of the carbon buildup in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.
As the world focuses on dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, a landmark report in Nature pinpoints the ecosystems that, if restored, give us the biggest "bang for our buck" in terms of both climate and biodiversity benefits.
Despite being shown to be beneficial, shelterbelts are being systematically
destroyed by modern farmers. A PinP video.
Returning specific ecosystems in all continents worldwide that have been replaced by farming to their natural state would rescue the majority of land-based species of mammals, amphibians and birds under threat of dying out while soaking up more than 465 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Protecting 30% of the priority areas identified in the study, together with protecting ecosystems still in their natural form, would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 49% of all the carbon that has built up in our atmosphere over the last two centuries. Some 27 researchers from 12 countries contributed to the report, which assesses forests, grasslands, shrublands, wetlands and arid ecosystems.
“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernardo Strassburg, the study's lead author. “We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”
By identifying precisely which destroyed ecosystems worldwide should be restored to deliver biodiversity and climate benefits at a low cost, without impact on agricultural production, the study is the first of its kind to provide global evidence that, where restoration takes place has the most profound impact on the achievement of biodiversity, climate and food security goals. Restoration can be 13 times more cost-effective when it takes place in the highest priority locations.
The study focuses on the potential benefits of restoring both forest and non-forest ecosystems on a global scale. “Previous research has emphasized forests and tree planting, sometimes at the expense of native grasslands or other ecosystems, the destruction of which would be very detrimental for biodiversity and should be avoided. Our research shows that while reviving forests is critical for mitigating global warming and protecting biodiversity, other ecosystems also have a massive role to play,” said Strassburg.
The new report in Nature builds on the UN’s dire warnings that we’re on track to lose 1 million species in coming decades and that the world has mostly failed in its efforts to reach globally-set biodiversity targets in 2020, including the goal to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. Nations are re-doubling efforts to stave off mass extinctions in the leadup to the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Kunming, China, in 2021. That's when a global framework to protect nature is expected to be signed. This new report will inform the discussion around restoration and offer insight into how reviving ecosystems can help tackle multiple goals.
Researchers assessed almost three million hectares of ecosystems worldwide that have been converted to farmland. Of these, over half were originally forests, one-quarter grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetlands. They then evaluated these lands based on animal habitats, carbon storage and cost-effectiveness to determine which swathe of lands worldwide would deliver the most benefits for biodiversity and carbon at the lowest cost when restored.
Researchers were further able to identify a global-level, multiple-benefits solution—unconstrained by national boundaries—that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for biodiversity, 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27% by focusing on areas with low implementation and opportunity costs.
When researchers looked at the benefits if the restoration were to take place at the national level—which means that each country would restore 15% of its forests—they saw a reduction in biodiversity benefits by 28% and climate benefits by 29%, a rise in costs by 52%.
“These results highlight the critical importance of international cooperation in meeting these goals. Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate,” Strassburg said.
Responding to fears that restoring ecosystems will encroach on the land needed for crop production, researchers calculated how many ecosystems could be revived without cutting into food supplies. They found that 55%, or 1,578 million hectares, of ecosystems that had been converted to farmlands, could be restored without disrupting food production. This could be achieved through the well-planned and sustainable intensification of food production, together with a reduction in food waste and a shift away from foods such as meat and cheese, which require large amounts of land and therefore produce disproportionate greenhouse gas emissions.
“As government officials gradually refocus on global climate and biodiversity goals, our study provides them with the precise geographic information they need to make informed choices about where to restore ecosystems,” said Robin Chazdon, one of the report authors.
The approach developed is already supporting implementation at national and local scales. It’s attracting the attention of policy makers, NGOs and the private sector due to the substantial cost-benefit increase of restoration efforts. “We intend to help restoration achieve massive scales by aligning socioecological and financial interests, simultaneously increasing impacts for nature and people while improving returns and reducing risks for investors,” said Strassburg.
Overall, the study provides compelling evidence to policymakers seeking affordable, efficient ways to meet United Nations goals around biodiversity, climate and, additionally, desertification, that restoration, when well-coordinated and carried out in combination with the protection of intact ecosystems and the better use of agricultural lands, is an unmatched—though currently underused—solution.
“Our results provide very strong evidence of the benefits of pursuing joint planning and implementation of climate and biodiversity solutions, which is particularly timely given the landmark meetings planned for 2021 of the associated UN conventions on climate biodiversity and land degradation,” Strassburg said.
“The study also demonstrates a crucial but hitherto-unexplored application of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” noted Thomas Brooks, Chief Scientist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and a co-author of the study. “It will inform discussion next year at IUCN World Conservation Congress and fifteenth CBD Conference of the Parties regarding implementation of policy commitments, including the Bonn Challenge, the UN Decade of Restoration and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“A new focus on prioritizing multiple outcomes of restoring ecosystems beyond forests, and beyond country level area-based targets, calls for intensifying international cooperation to realize globally important benefits of restoring the Earth’s precious ecosystems. We need to stimulate action for the sake of a healthy planet,” said Chazdon.
Trees, shrubs and debris are burned on the Canadian prairies to make way
for more cropland. A PinP photo.
Declines in terrestrial biodiversity from habitat conversion could be reversed by adopting a combination of bold conservation methods and increases in the sustainability of the food system, a modelling study published in Nature suggests.
Human pressures, such as the destruction of natural habitats to make way for agriculture and forestry, are causing rapid declines in biodiversity, and placing at risk the ecosystem services upon which we depend. Ambitious targets for biodiversity have been proposed, but it is unclear how these targets can be achieved whilst retaining the ability to feed a growing population. Using land-use and biodiversity models, David Leclère and colleagues show how this is possible.
Conservationists need to increase the amount of actively managed land, restore degraded land and adopt generalized landscape-level conservation planning. Meanwhile, we need to eat fewer animal-derived calories, waste less food and find ways to intensify food production sustainably.
If this double-pronged strategy is followed, more than two thirds of future biodiversity losses from habitat conversion could be avoided, the authors suggest. However, they caution that other threats, such as climate change, must also be addressed to truly reverse biodiversity declines.
Renewable energy production is necessary to mitigate climate change. However, only 17% of current global energy consumption is achieved through renewable energies. Generating the required technologies and infrastructure will lead to an increase in the production of many metals, which may create potential threats for biodiversity.
Laura Sonter and colleagues mapped mining areas globally and assessed their coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites. The authors found that mining potentially influences approximately 50 million km2 of the Earth’s land surface with 82% of mining areas targeting materials used in renewable energy production. When looking at the spatial overlap between mining areas and conservation sites, they found that 8% of mining areas coincided with nationally-designated Protected Areas, 7% with Key Biodiversity Areas and 16% with Remaining Wilderness (sites considered important priorities for halting diversity loss).
The authors discovered that a greater proportion of pre-operational mines are targeting materials needed for renewable energy production (nearly 84%) compared to around 73% of operational mines. They also observed that pre-operational mines targeting renewable materials also appear to be more densely packed together than those targeting other materials.
Increasing the extent and density of mining areas will cause additional threats to biodiversity suggest the authors, and they argue that without strategic planning these new threats to biodiversity may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.
While the consequences of habitat loss have been known for some
time, new research just published, underlines just how grave the situation has
this latest research is German, animals like the grey wolf
faces similar disruption in North America.
It’s called “habitat fragmentation.” And, it’s been happening on
such a large scale, it’s been hard to tell what aspects are the most
destructive. That's because ecologists - at least 'til now - haven't been able
to properly keep track of all wildlife within an entire eco-system when human
developments confine them to smaller and more isolated patches of livable space.
In this image, intact forest is deep green, while cleared areas are tan (bare ground) or light green (crops, pasture, or occasionally, second-growth forest). The fish-bone pattern of small clearings along new roads is the beginning of one of the common deforestation trajectories in the Amazon.
A NASA photo. The clearing and subsequent instability of Amazonian forests are among the greatest threats to tropical biodiversity conservation today. Story here.
As an estimated 50 billion birds commence their annual migrations, the critical staging areas they need to complete these journeys continue to be degraded or are disappearing completely, the United Nations today warned on this year's World Migratory Bird Day. Details here.