Human impacts on biodiversity

Project summary

  • Focus: to model the response of biodiversity to environmental changes caused by human activity
  • Funding: NERC

We are modelling environmental changes caused by human activity.

Human activities are causing major changes in biological communities worldwide. These changes can harm biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Ecosystem function is important for supporting plant and animal communities, and ensuring the long-term survival of human populations.

The main threats facing biodiversity globally are:

  • destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats
  • reduction of individual survival and reproductive rates through exploitation, pollution and introduction of alien species.

However, species do not all respond equally to these threats. Declines in species often reflect the relationships between species and ecological patterns.

There is an urgent need to model the response of biodiversity on the intensity of human activity and the species' ecological attributes.

By fully understanding how species respond to human activities we can make projections that inform policy.


PREDICTS (Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems)

PREDICTS is a collaborative project that uses approaches similar to a meta-analyses to investigate how local biodiversity typically responds to human pressures, such as land-use change, pollution, invasive species and infrastructure.

We collate comparisons studies on species' abundance and use them to model inter-site biodiversity differences, including the effect of human activities on species' abundance. 

Map showing the location of species abundance research sites in the PREDICTS database.

Map showing the location of the first 19,000 sites in the PREDICTS database. For the full version see the PREDICTS projects. 


Hudson, L., Newbold, T., Contu, S., Hill, S.L.L., Lysenko, I., De Palma, A., Phillips, H.R.P., and 236 other authors (2014), The PREDICTS database: a global database of how local terrestrial biodiversity responds to human impacts. Ecol & Evol, 4:4701-4735.

Tuck, S., Phillips, H. R. P., Hintzen, R. E., Scharlemann, J. P. W., Purvis, A. & Hudson, L. (2014). MODISTools: downloading and processing MODIS remotely-sensed data in R. Ecol & Evol, 4:4658-4668.

Newbold, T., Hudson, L., Phillips, H. R. P., Hill, S. L. L., Contu, S., Lysenko, I., Blandon, A., Butchart, S. H. M., Booth, H. L., Day, J., De Palma, A., Harrison, M. L. K., Kirkpatrick, L., Paynegar, E., Robinson, A., Simpson, J., Mace, G. M., Scharlemann, J. P. W. & Purvis, A. (2014). A global model of the response of tropical and sub-tropical forest biodiversity to anthropogenic pressures. P Roy Soc B-Biol Sci, 281, 20141371.

Mace, G. M., Reyers, B., Alkemade, R., Biggs, R., Chapin III, S., Cornell, S. E., Díaz, S., Jennings, S., Leadley, P., Mumby, P. J., Purvis, A., Scholes, R. J., Seddon, A., Solan, M., Steffen, W. & Woodward, G. (2014). Approaches to defining a planetary boundary for biodiversity. Global Env Change, 28, 289-297.

Diaz, S., Purvis, A., Cornelissen, J. H. C., Mace, G. M., Donoghue, M. J., Ewers, R. M., Jordano, P. & Pearse, W. D. (2013). Functional traits, the phylogeny of function, and ecosystem service vulnerability. Ecol Evol, 3, 2958-2975.

Biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity

Diversity and informatics research

Researching undiscovered diversity in megadiverse systems using big data


The Museum’s 80 million specimens form the world’s most important natural history collection