Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

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New study of global patterns of agricultural land use-intensity and biodiversity

By 2050 it is estimated that we will need around 50% more food. Even under ambitious future scenarios of reducing food waste, consumption of meat and dairy, and inequality, agricultural production increases will still be necessary (Visconti et al., 2015). Biodiversity is already in trouble, notably due to agricultural expansion into natural areas. Land-use intensification often touted as solution to stop expanding into natural areas and grow more on the same patch. However, in finding a balance between agriculture and wildlife, most research focuses on yields and biodiversity. Our new study published in Diversity and Distributions this week shows that this is an over-simplistic approach. Focusing on yields alone in agricultural intensification misses a big part of the story, and potentially overlooks numerous drivers of biodiversity loss (e.g. irrigation causing salinization of soils, toxic livestock runoff). Our study shows that if we wish to find sustainable ways in which to feed the world, we need to take into account the full spectrum of management practises by which we grow food.


Global patterns of agricultural land-use intensity and vertebrate diversity

Laura Kehoe | Tobias Kuemmerle | Carsten Meyer | Christian Levers | Tomáš Václavík | Holger Kreft



Land-use change is the single biggest cause of biodiversity loss. With a rising demand for resources, understanding how and where agriculture threatens biodiversity is of increasing importance. Agricultural expansion has received much attention, but where high agricultural land-use intensity (LUI) threatens biodiversity remains unclear. We address this knowledge gap with two main research questions: (1) Where do global patterns of LUI coincide with the spatial distribution of biodiversity? (2) Where are regions of potential conflict between different aspects of high LUI and high biodiversity?




We overlaid thirteen LUI metrics with endemism richness, a range size-weighted species richness indicator, for mammals, birds and amphibians. We then used local indicators of spatial association to delineate statistically significant (< 0.05) areas of high and low LUI associated with biodiversity.


Patterns of LUI are heterogeneously distributed in areas of high endemism richness, thus discouraging the use of a single metric to represent LUI. Many regions where high LUI and high endemism richness coincide, for example in South America, China and Eastern Africa, are not within currently recognized biodiversity hotspots. Regions of currently low LUI and high endemism richness, found in many parts of Mesoamerica, Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia, may be at risk as intensification accelerates.

Main conclusions

We provide a global view of the geographic patterns of LUI and its concordance with endemism richness, shedding light on regions where highly intensive agriculture and unique biodiversity coincide. Past assessments of land-use impacts on biodiversity have either disregarded LUI or included a single metric to measure it. This study demonstrates that such omission can substantially underestimate biodiversity threat. A wider spectrum of relevant LUI metrics needs to be considered when balancing agricultural production and biodiversity.


Link to the manuscript: DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12359

Citation: Kehoe, L., Kuemmerle, T., Meyer, C., Vaclavik, T and Kreft, H. (2015): Global patterns of land-use intensity and biodiversity, Diversity and Distributions, accepted.