Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Carving up the tropics for dinner

We highlight the hot spots around the world that are most susceptible to agricultural development. We find up to a one third loss of terrestrial species and abundance in the tropics. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly at-risk and has only half the protected area coverage of potentially high risk agricultural development areas as Latin America.

Biodiversity at risk under future cropland expansion and intensification


Laura Kehoe | Alfredo Romero-Muñoz | Ester Polaina | Lyndon Estes | Holger Kreft | Tobias Kuemmerle


Agriculture is the leading driver of biodiversity loss. However, its future impact on biodiversity remains unclear, especially because agricultural intensification is often neglected, and because high path-dependency is assumed when forecasting agricultural development although the past suggests shock events leading to rapid and drastic agricultural change occur frequently. Here, we investigate the possible impacts on biodiversity of pathways of agricultural expansion and intensification. Our pathways are not built to reach equivalent production targets, therefore, they should not be directly compared, they instead highlight areas at risk of high biodiversity loss across the entire option space of possible agricultural change. Based on an extensive database of local biodiversity responses to agriculture, we find up to 30% of species richness and 31% of species abundances potentially lost due to agricultural expansion across the Amazon and Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 21% of high-risk expansion areas in the Afrotropics overlapped with protected areas (compared to 43% of Neotropics). Intensification risk-areas, where up to 7% species richness and 13% abundance was potentially lost, were mainly found in India, Eastern Europe, and the Afromontane region. Many high-risk regions are not adequately covered by conservation prioritization schemes and exhibit low national conservation spending along with high agricultural growth. Considering rising agricultural demand, our results highlight areas where effective land-use planning may proactively mitigate biodiversity loss.


Link to the manuscript: DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0234-3

Paper pdf available here

Download our 1 km2 land systems dataset here

Citation: Laura Kehoe, Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Ester Polaina, Lyndon Estes, Holger Kreft, Tobias Kuemmerle (2017): Biodiversity at risk under future cropland expansion and intensification. Nature Ecology and Evolution, doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0234-3.


Photo: Jan Huling