Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Earth's tropical forests host the greatest levels of biodiversity on the planet. Tropical ecosystems are home to thousands of mammals, birds, amphibians and plant species.
But tropical ecosystems are also increasingly vulnerable. According to a new study, to save them, humans must make dietary changes. Simply put, humans must consume less meat and dairy to save the rainforests.
As economies across the developing world continue to grow, median incomes are rising. As a result, populations in Africa and Asia are eating more meat and dairy products and relying less on starches. To meet demands, industrial agriculture continues to expand.
When researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany looked at the relationship between dietary changes, agricultural production and land use, they found increases in meat and dairy production corresponds with land clearing in the tropics.
Last week, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that land use and dietary changes were necessary to halt climate change.
Meat and dairy production require more land and water than other types of agriculture. Meat and dairy production also releases more greenhouse gases. If demands for meat and dairy keep growing, scientists suggest more and more tropical forest will be cleared, fragmenting habitat and collapsing ecosystems.
To save the tropics, scientists warned in the journal Global Environmental Change, meat and dairy demands must be curbed. Their analysis showed that replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives could reduce the demand for agricultural land by 11 percent.
The new study showed that while industrial feed systems could reduce the land-use impacts of increased meat consumption, they could increase other types of environmental degradation, including increased fertilizer usage.
"Reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health," lead author Roslyn Henry, researcher at the University of Edinburgh, said in a news release. "It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world's growing population is fed. Changing our diets will lead to a more sustainable future and complement food security goals while addressing global food inequalities."