Biodiversity loss

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Biodiversity loss is the extinction of species (plant or animal) worldwide, and also the local reduction or loss of species in a certain habitat.


The latter phenomenon can be temporary or permanent, depending on whether the environmental degradation that leads to the loss is reversible through ecological restoration/ecological resilience or effectively permanent (e.g. through land loss). Global extinction has so far been proven to be irreversible.

Even though permanent global species loss is a more dramatic phenomenon than regional changes in species composition, even minor changes from a healthy stable state can have dramatic influence on the food web and the food chain insofar as reductions in only one species can adversely affect the entire chain (coextinction), leading to an overall reduction in biodiversity, possible alternative stable states of an ecosystem notwithstanding. Ecological effects of biodiversity are usually counteracted by its loss. Reduced biodiversity in particular leads to reduced ecosystem services and eventually poses an immediate danger for food security, also for humankind. [1]

Loss rate

Demonstrator against biodiversity loss, at Extinction Rebellion (2018). Extinction Rebellion-2.jpg
Demonstrator against biodiversity loss, at Extinction Rebellion (2018).

You know, when we first set up WWF, our objective was to save endangered species from extinction. But we have failed completely; we haven’t managed to save a single one. If only we had put all that money into condoms, we might have done some good.

Sir Peter Scott, Founder of the World Wide Fund for Nature, Cosmos Magazine, 2010 [2]

The current rate of global diversity loss is estimated to be 100 to 1000 times higher than the (naturally occurring) background extinction rate and expected to still grow in the upcoming years. [3] [4]

Locally bounded loss rates can be measured using species richness and its variation over time. Raw counts may not be as ecologically relevant as relative or absolute abundances. Taking into account the relative frequencies, a considerable number of biodiversity indexes has been developed. Besides richness, evenness and heterogeneity are considered to be the main dimensions along which diversity can be measured. [1]

As with all diversity measures, it is essential to accurately classify the spatial and temporal scope of the observation. "Definitions tend to become less precise as the complexity of the subject increases and the associated spatial and temporal scales widen." [5] Biodiversity itself is not a single concept but can be split up into various scales (e.g. ecosystem diversity vs. habitat diversity or even biodiversity vs. habitat diversity [5] ) or different subcategories (e.g. phylogenetic diversity, species diversity, genetic diversity, nucleotide diversity). The question of net loss in confined regions is often a matter of debate but longer observation times are generally thought to be beneficial to loss estimates. [6] [7]

To compare rates between different geographic regions latitudinal gradients in species diversity should also be considered.

Human-Driven Biodiversity Loss and Ecological Effects

Biodiversity is traditionally defined as the variety of life on Earth in all its forms and it comprises the number of species, their genetic variation and the interaction of these lifeforms [8] . However, from past few years the human-driven biodiversity loss are causing more severe and longer-lasting impacts. [9] Main reasons for biodiversity loss are as follows:

Change in land use (e.g. deforestation, intensive monoculture, urbanization)

According to the UN's Global Biodiversity Outlook 2014 estimates that 70 percent of the projected loss of terrestrial biodiversity are caused by agriculture use. Moreover, more than 1/3 of the planet's land surface is utilised for crops and grazing of livestock. [10] Agriculture destroys biodiversity by converting natural habitats to intensely managed systems and by releasing pollutants, including greenhouses gases. Food value chains further amplify impacts including through energy use, transport and waste. [11] The direct effects of urban growth on habitat loss are well understood:Building construction often results in habitat destruction and fragmentation. The rise of urbanization greatly reduced biodiversity when large areas of natural habitat are fragmented. Small habitat patches are unable to support the same level of genetic or taxonomic diversity as they formerly could while some of the more sensitive species may become locally extinct. [12]


Pollution from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas can remain in the air as particle pollutants or fall to the ground as acid rain. Acid rain, which is primarily composed of sulfuric and nitric acid, causes acidification of lakes, streams and sensitive forest soils, and contributes to slower forest growth and tree damage at high elevations. [13] Moreover, Carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels and biomass, deforestation, and agricultural practices contributes to greenhouse gases, which prevent heat from escaping the earth’s surface. With the increase in temperature expected from increasing greenhouse gases, there will be higher levels of air pollution, greater variability in weather patterns, and changes in the distribution of vegetation in the landscape. [14] These two factors play a huge role towards biodiversity loss and entirely depended on human-driven factors.

Ecological effects on Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss also threatens the structure and proper functioning of the ecosystem. Although all ecosystems are able to adapt to the stresses associated with reductions in biodiversity to some degree, biodiversity loss reduces an ecosystem’s complexity, as roles once played by multiple interacting species or multiple interacting individuals are played by fewer or none. [15] . The effects of species loss or changes in composition, and the mechanisms by which the effects manifest themselves, can differ among ecosystem properties, ecosystem types, and pathways of potential community change. At higher levels of extinction (41 to 60 percent of species), the effects of species loss ranked with those of many other major drivers of environmental change, such as ozone pollution, acid deposition on forests and nutrient pollution. [16] Finally, the effects are also seen on human needs such clean water, air and food production over-time. For example, studies over the last two decades have demonstrated that more biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive. As a result, there has been growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions – due to habitat loss, overharvesting and other human-caused environmental changes – could reduce nature’s ability to provide goods and services like food, clean water and a stable climate. [17]


DPSIR: drivers, pressures, state, impact and response model of intervention DPSIR.svg
DPSIR: drivers, pressures, state, impact and response model of intervention

Major factors for biotic stress and the ensuing accelerating loss rate are, amongst other threats: [18]

  1. Habitat loss and degradation
    Land use intensification (and ensuing land loss/habitat loss) has been identified to be a significant factor in loss of ecological services due to direct effects as well as biodiversity loss. [19]
  2. Climate change through heat stress and drought stress
  3. Excessive nutrient load and other forms of pollution
  4. Over-exploitation and unsustainable use (e.g. unsustainable fishing methods) we are currently using 25% more natural resources than the planet
  5. Armed conflict, which disrupts human livelihoods and institutions, contributes to habitat loss, and intensifies over-exploitation of economically valuable species, leading to population declines and local extinctions. [20]
  6. Invasive alien species that effectively compete for a niche, replacing indigenous species [21]
  7. Human activity has left the Earth struggling to sustain life, due to the demands humans have. As well as leaving around 30% of mammal, amphibian, and bird species endangered. [22]

Insect loss

In 2017, various publications describe the dramatic reduction in absolute insect biomass and number of species in Germany and North America over a period of 27 years. [23] [24] As possible reasons for the decline, the authors highlight neonicotinoids and other agrochemicals. Writing in the journal PLOS One , Hallman et al. (2017) conclude that "the widespread insect biomass decline is alarming." [25]

Birds loss

Certain types of pesticides named Neonicotinoids probably contributing to decline of certain bird species. [26]

Food and agriculture

Global state and trends figures of key elements of biodiversity important to food and agriculture Global state and trends figures for key elements of biodiversity important to food and agriculture.svg
Global state and trends figures of key elements of biodiversity important to food and agriculture

In 2019, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization produced its first report on The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, which warned that "Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline." [27] [28] The report states that this is being caused by “a variety of drivers operating at a range of levels” and more specifically that “major global trends such as changes in climate, international markets and demography give rise to more immediate drivers such as land-use change, pollution and overuse of external inputs, overharvesting and the proliferation of invasive species. Interactions between drivers often exacerbate their effects on BFA [i.e. biodiversity for food and agriculture]. Demographic changes, urbanization, markets, trade and consumer preferences are reported [by the countries that provided inputs to the report] to have a strong influence on food systems, frequently with negative consequences for BFA and the ecosystem services it provides. However, such drivers are also reported to open opportunities to make food systems more sustainable, for example through the development of markets for biodiversity-friendly products.” [29] It further states that “the driver mentioned by the highest number of countries as having negative effects on regulating and supporting ecosystem services [in food and agricultural production systems] is changes in land and water use and management” and that  “loss and degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems and, in many production systems, transition to intensive production of a reduced number of species, breeds and varieties, remain major drivers of loss of BFA and ecosystem services.” [29]

The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services asserts that industrial farming is a significant factor in collapsing biodiversity. [30] The health of humans is largely dependent on the product of an ecosystem. With biodiversity loss, a huge impact on human health comes as well. Biodiversity makes it possible for humans to have a sustainable level of soils and the means to have the genetic factors in order to have food. [31]

Native Species Richness Loss

Humans have altered plant richness in regional landscapes worldwide transforming more than 75% of the terrestrial biomes to the "anthropogenic biomes." This is seen through loss of native species being replaced and out competed by agriculture. Models indicate that about half of the biosphere has seen a "substantial net anthropogenic change" in species richness. [32]


There are many conservation challenges that are posed when dealing with biodiversity loss. Hence, a joint effort needs to be made through public policies, economic solutions, monitoring and education by governments, NGOs, conservationists etc. Incentives are required to protect species and conserve their natural habitat and disincentivize habitat loss and degradation (e.g. implementing sustainable development). Other ways to achieve this goal are enforcing laws that prevent poaching wildlife, protect species from overhunting and overfishing and keep the ecosystems they rely on intact and secure from species invasions and land use conversion. [33]

Environmental Organizations

Earth's 25 terrestrial hot spots of biodiversity. These regions contain a number of plant and animal species and have been subjected to high levels of habitat destruction by human activity. Biodiversity Hotspots Map.jpg
Earth's 25 terrestrial hot spots of biodiversity. These regions contain a number of plant and animal species and have been subjected to high levels of habitat destruction by human activity.

There are many organizations devoted to the cause of prioritizing conservation efforts such as the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and the United States Endangered Species Act. Additionally, British environmental scientist Norman Myers and his colleagues have identified 25 terrestrial biodiversity hotspots that could serve as priorities for habitat protection have been identified. Many governments in the world have conserved portions of their territories under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Since 2010, approximately 164 countries have developed plans to reach their conservation targets including the protection of 17 percent of terrestrial and inland waters  and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas. By 2019, many national governments had protected 14.9 percent of land areas and 7.5 percent of the world’s oceans. [34]

See also


Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg  This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 License statement : The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture − In Brief , FAO, FAO. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.

Related Research Articles

Holocene extinction Ongoing extinction event caused by human activity

The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the sixth mass extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is an ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch as a result of human activity. The included extinctions span numerous families of plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods. With widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests, as well as other areas, the vast majority of these extinctions are thought to be undocumented, as the species are undiscovered at the time of their extinction, or no one has yet discovered their extinction. The current rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background rates.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth's surface, and contain about 90 percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.It is also worth mentioning that if our biodiversity is high enough, we can finally live in a world without hunger.

Extinction Termination of a taxon by the death of the last member

Extinction is the termination of a kind of organism or of a group of kinds (taxon), usually a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point. Because a species' potential range may be very large, determining this moment is difficult, and is usually done retrospectively. This difficulty leads to phenomena such as Lazarus taxa, where a species presumed extinct abruptly "reappears" after a period of apparent absence.

Conservation biology The study of threats to biological diversity

Conservation biology is the management of nature and of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction and the erosion of biotic interactions. It is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on natural and social sciences, and the practice of natural resource management.

Urban ecology The study of the relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the context of an urban environment.

Urban ecology is the scientific study of the relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the context of an urban environment. The urban environment refers to environments dominated by high-density residential and commercial buildings, paved surfaces, and other urban-related factors that create a unique landscape dissimilar to most previously studied environments in the field of ecology. The goal of urban ecology is to achieve a balance between human culture and the natural environment.

Habitat conservation

Habitat conservation is a management practice that seeks to conserve, protect and restore habitats and prevent species extinction, fragmentation or reduction in range. It is a priority of many groups that cannot be easily characterized in terms of any one ideology.

Pollinator decline

Pollinator decline is the reduction in abundance of insect and other animal pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide that began at the end of the 20th century. The U.S. government has stated that bees are now dying at an environmentally unsustainable rate. As depicted by Pat Thomas in the Ecologist, in the United States alone, bees contribute to $15 billion in crop value.

Decline in amphibian populations Ongoing mass extinction of amphibian species worldwide

The decline in amphibian populations is an ongoing mass extinction of amphibian species worldwide. Since the 1980s, decreases in amphibian populations, including population crashes and mass localized extinctions, have been observed in locations all over the world. These declines are known as one of the most critical threats to global biodiversity

Ecosystem diversity

Ecosystem diversity deals with the variations in ecosystems within a geographical location and its overall impact on human existence and the environment.

Agricultural biodiversity

Agricultural biodiversity is a sub-set of general biodiversity. Otherwise known as agrobiodiversity, agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes "the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels that sustain the ecosystem structures, functions and processes in and around production systems, and that provide food and non-food agricultural products.” Created and managed by farmers, pastoralists, fishers and forest dwellers, agrobiodiversity provides stability, adaptability and resilience and constitutes a key element of the livelihood strategies of rural communities throughout the world. Agrobiodiversity is central to sustainable food systems and sustainable diets. The use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute to food security, nutrition security, and livelihood security, and it is critical for climate adaptation and climate mitigation.

Habitat fragmentation Environmental phenomenon

Habitat fragmentation describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism's preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation and ecosystem decay. Causes of habitat fragmentation include geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment, and human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes the extinction of many species. More specifically, habitat fragmentation is a process by which large and contiguous habitats get divided into smaller, isolated patches of habitats.

Habitat destruction is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. The organisms that previously inhabited the site are displaced or die, thereby reducing biodiversity and species abundance. Habitat destruction through human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industrial production and urbanization. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling, and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide. The destructive environmental changes include more indirect factors like geological processes, and climate change, introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion, water and noise pollution and others. Loss of habitat can be preceded by an initial habitat fragmentation.

Human impact on the environment Impact of human life on Earth

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include population growth, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and human overpopulation causes those problems.

Wildlife conservation practice of protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats

Wildlife conservation is the practice of protecting wild species and their habitats in order to prevent species from going extinct. Major threats to wildlife include habitat destruction/degradation/fragmentation, overexploitation, poaching, pollution and climate change. The IUCN estimates that 27,000 species of the ones assessed are at risk for extinction. Expanding to all existing species, a 2019 UN report on biodiversity put this estimate even higher at a million species. It's also being acknowledged that an increasing number of ecosystems on Earth containing endangered species are disappearing. To address these issues, there have been both national and international governmental efforts to preserve Earth's wildlife. Prominent conservation agreements include the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). There are also numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) dedicated to conservation such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.

Ecological collapse refers to a situation where an ecosystem suffers a drastic, possibly permanent, reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms, often resulting in mass extinction. Usually, an ecological collapse is precipitated by a disastrous event occurring on a short time scale. Ecological collapse can be considered as a consequence of ecosystem collapse on the biotic elements that depended on the original ecosystem.

Defaunation is the global, local or functional extinction of animal populations or species from ecological communities. The growth of the human population, combined with advances in harvesting technologies, has led to more intense and efficient exploitation of the environment. This has resulted in the depletion of large vertebrates from ecological communities, creating what has been termed "empty forest". Defaunation differs from extinction; it includes both the disappearance of species and declines in abundance. Defaunation effects were first implied at the Symposium of Plant-Animal Interactions at the University of Campinas, Brazil in 1988 in the context of neotropical forests. Since then, the term has gained broader usage in conservation biology as a global phenomenon.

Measurement of biodiversity

Conservation biologists have designed a variety of objective means to measure biodiversity empirically. Each measure of biodiversity relates to a particular use of the data. For practical conservationists, measurements should include a quantification of values that are commonly shared among locally affected organisms, including humans. For others, a more economically defensible definition should allow the ensuring of continued possibilities for both adaptation and future use by humans, assuring environmental sustainability.

Index of biodiversity articles Wikipedia index

This is a list of topics in biodiversity.

Decline in insect populations Ecological trend

Several studies report a substantial decline in insect populations. Most commonly, the declines involve reductions in abundance, though in some cases entire species are going extinct. The declines are far from uniform. In some localities, there have been reports of increases in overall insect population, and some types of insects appear to be increasing in abundance across the world. A 2020 meta study published in the journal Science found that globally, terrestrial insects appear to declining in abundance at a rate of about 9% per decade, while the abundance of freshwater insects has increased. The authors note that the 9% figure may not accurately reflect the pace of decline in all parts of the world. Compared to Europe, much less historical data on insect decline is available for regions such as Asia or Africa.

The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is a report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, on the global state of biodiversity. A summary for policymakers was released on 6 May 2019. The report states that, due to human impact on the environment in the past half-century, the Earth's biodiversity has suffered a catastrophic decline unprecedented in human history. An estimated 82 percent of wild mammal biomass has been lost, while 40 percent of amphibians, almost a third of reef-building corals, more than a third of marine mammals, and 10 percent of all insects are threatened with extinction.


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Further reading