Illustration showing that in the year 2000, 39.3% of land was converted to human use and that local ecosystems had 13.6% fewer species than before habitat damage started

Human land-use in the year 2000 and its impact on the number of species in ecosystems, compared to the pre-industrial era
© Laura Cattaneo -

Read later


During Beta testing articles may only be saved for seven days.

Tracking and predicting biodiversity damage

A major collaborative study led by Museum scientists shows for the first time the extent to which human land-use has affected the diversity of wildlife in ecosystems around the world.

The research team assessed changes in biodiversity from 1500 until the present day in response to the conversion of land for agriculture and urbanisation. They also forecast the future impact of pressures caused by human activities, by modelling their data with four scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

To see changes in biodiversity, population and land-use since the year 1800, download the infographic PDF (1.68MB) © Laura Cattaneo. The infographic also illustrates the best and worst-case scenarios for 2100 as predicted by this study.

The worst scenario for biodiversity is ‘business as usual’, with rapid human population growth (predicted to reach 12 billion in 2100) driving widespread agricultural expansion.

But not all outlooks are so bleak, says lead scientist Prof Andy Purvis:

'I had expected these scenarios to be variations on a rather dark theme. And they’re not.
'They show that what happens next is completely down to us. If we carry on as we are, numbers of species will fall by nearly 3.5 per cent on average by 2100. But if society takes concerted action, and reduces climate change by valuing forests properly, then by the end of the century we can undo the last 50 years of damage to biodiversity on land.'

Published in the journal Nature, the study was made possible by a global network of contributors who supplied data from every continent, covering more than 26,500 species in over 70 countries.