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New research reveals destruction of forests and grasslands is biggest cause of biodiversity loss

New research into the causes of the devastating global biodiversity crisis has found that the conversion of natural forests and grasslands to intensive agriculture and livestock is the biggest cause        

The next biggest drivers are the exploitation of wildlife though fishing, logging, trade and hunting - and then pollution.

Whilst climate change has rightly attracted attention for its catastrophic consequences for the natural world, it is only the fourth largest driver of biodiversity loss on land, followed by invasive alien species in fifth place. This major new study, published during the COP27 climate summit, demonstrates clearly that tackling global warming on its own will not be enough to stop the catastrophic decline of the world's biodiversity, and with it our future.

Greenhouse gasses have been known to be the leading cause of the climate crisis for decades but just as important is understanding what is behind the enormous and rapid decline in species. A million species of animal and plant are threatened with extinction, while ecosystems worldwide are changing away from their natural condition which means that they may be less likely to meet humanity's needs.

Professor Andy Purvis is a research lead at the Natural History Museum whose work focuses on biodiversity, and co-author of this new study published in Science Advances. He says: “The biodiversity crisis has to be taken seriously! Apart from things we mine, like fossil fuels, all our supply chains start in ecological systems. We all absolutely depend on these systems continuing to work reliably. There is not yet enough recognition that economies can't grow sustainably by running nature down.”

The study’s authors, led by Dr Pedro Jaureguiberry of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina and Dr Nicolas Titeux of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, found climate change, whilst only fourth on land, was ranked second in terms of destruction of ocean biodiversity. Oceans have a different ranking to land and freshwater, with direct exploitation, mostly from fishing, coming first.

While for land-based environments climate change was only fourth biggest driver, the study’s authors suspect it will move up the rankings as the full effect of the crisis becomes more apparent over the coming years and decades.

Need for nature-based solutions

This major study should be a gamechanger for understanding how to tackle biodiversity loss. Dr Pedro Jaureguiberry says: “Our study brings comprehensive and rigorous information on which drivers cause the most damage to biodiversity at multiple levels, from regions and realms to the different facets of biodiversity, highlighting the importance of each driver in particular contexts. Hopefully, this will contribute to a more holistic approach to generate more efficient policies to reverse biodiversity loss.”

In particular, the research demonstrates the need for a more holistic approach that will tackle the twin threats of climate and the biodiversity crisis together. Dr Nicolas Titeux points out that, “The current global agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change can focus too narrowly on one driver, overlooking or, in the worst-case, undermining solutions for others”.

Professor Andy Purvis explains: “Climate change and biodiversity loss have been tackled largely separately, by different policies that haven't always considered the other problem. For example, biofuels are proposed as one way to get to net zero, but the expansion of plantations into natural forest that could result would be terrible for nature.”

The paper highlights some of the ‘nature-positive’ solutions that tackle both climate change and biodiversity loss such as large-scale restoration of natural forests and effective protection of coastal wetlands.

Professor Andy Purvis says: “I’d love for 'nature-positive' to get into the public consciousness as much as 'net zero' has. If future generations are going to have the same birth right we had of a liveable, supportive planet, then all parts of society will have to transition as quickly as possible to being both net zero and nature-positive.”



Notes to Editors

Title: The direct drivers of recent global anthropogenic biodiversity loss

Short title: The major drivers of global biodiversity loss

The paper should be able to be accessed on this link from 19:00hrs

Authors: Pedro Jaureguiberry1†, Nicolas Titeux2,3,4†, Martin Wiemers2,5, Diana E. Bowler3,6,7, Luca Coscieme8, Abigail S. Golden9,10, Carlos A. Guerra3,11, Ute Jacob12,13, Yasuo Takahashi14, Josef Settele2,3,15, Sandra Díaz1, Zsolt Molnár16, Andy Purvis17,18*


1Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (IMBIV), CONICET and FCEFyN, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba; Casilla de Correo 495, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina.

2UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Community Ecology and Department of Conservation Biology and Social-Ecological Systems; Theodor-Lieser-Str. 4, 06114 Halle, Germany.

3German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig; 04103 Leipzig, Germany.

4Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Environmental Research and Innovation Department, Observatory for Climate, Environment and Biodiversity; Rue du Brill 41, 4422 Belvaux, Luxembourg.

5Senckenberg Deutsches Entomologisches Institut; Eberswalder Str. 90, 15374 Müncheberg, Germany.

6Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Institute of Biodiversity; Dornburger Str. 159, 07743 Jena, Germany.

7UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department Ecosystem Services; Permoserstraße 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.

8Hot or Cool Institute; Quartiersweg 4, 10829 Berlin, Germany.

9Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, and Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University; New Brunswick, NJ 08901, U.S.A.

10School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

11Institute of Biology, Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg; Am Kirchtor 1, 06108 Halle, Germany.

12Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg; Ammerländer Heerstraße 231, 26129 Oldenburg, Germany.

13Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research; Am Handelshafen 12, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany.

14Institute for Global Environmental Strategies; 2108-11, Kamiyamaguchi, Hayama, Kanagawa, 240-0115, Japan.

15Institute of Biological Sciences, University of the Philippines; Los Baños, College, 4031, Laguna, Philippines.

16Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany; 2163 Vácrátót, Hungary.

17Natural History Museum, Department of Life Sciences; London SW7 5BD, U.K.

18Imperial College London, Department of Life Sciences; Silwood Park, Ascot SL5 7PY, U.K.

†These authors contributed equally to this work

*Corresponding author. Email:

About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited indoor attraction in the UK last year. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world. 

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens accessed by researchers from all over the world both in person and via over 30 billion digital data downloads to date. The Museum’s 350 scientists are finding solutions to the planetary emergency from biodiversity loss through to the sustainable extraction of natural resources. 

The Museum uses its global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome millions of visitors through our doors each year, our website has had 17 million visits in the last year and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 20 million people in the last 10 years. 

About The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is a mission-driven Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) active in the fields of materials, space, environment and IT.

LIST develops competitive and market-oriented product/service prototypes for public and private stakeholders and works across the entire innovation chain: fundamental/applied research, incubation, transfer of technologies.

By transforming scientific knowledge into technologies, smart data and tools, LIST empowers citizens in their choices, public authorities in their decisions and businesses in their strategies.