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Study: To curb biodiversity declines, protect land in the tropics

To curb the loss of biodiversity on Earth, researchers recommend conserving 30 percent of land in the tropics. Photo by DAVID ILIFF / Wikimedia Commons
To curb the loss of biodiversity on Earth, researchers recommend conserving 30 percent of land in the tropics. Photo by DAVID ILIFF / Wikimedia Commons

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- If world leaders, land managers and other policymakers can find a way to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and conserve a third of the land in the tropics, global species loss could be cut in half.

Currently, planet Earth is losing biodiversity at a worrying clip. But according to a new study published this week in the journal Ecography, conserving 30 percent of the tropics will reduce the risk of extinction for plants, birds and mammals by 50 percent.

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Dozens of studies have highlighted the importance biodiversity plays in sustaining healthy ecosystems. By preventing extinction and slowing biodiversity losses, efforts to conserve tropical lands will have a variety of secondary effects.

In addition to conserving land, authors of the new study suggest efforts must be made to encourage more sustainable agricultural practices.

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"Ecologically-based agriculture is highly productive, and this approach can complement traditional types of conservation," Jon Lovett, study co-author and head of Global Challenges department in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said in a news release. "We need to make a rapid transition from green agricultural deserts to verdant oases that combine economic productivity with movement and habitat of species affected by climate change. Our study shows where this needs to be done."

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Lovett is one of 21 global biodiversity and climate change scientists who contributed to the new study. The involved researchers hope their paper will guide plans for global conservation efforts at this week's World Biodiversity Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland.

Authors of the study support plans to conserve 30 percent of the planet's land area and 30 percent of Earth's ocean area. In addition to protecting species that live in protected areas, conservation efforts could help species elsewhere avoid the effects of global warming.

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"Climate change and species loss are largely human-driven despite the fact that we need stable temperatures and healthy ecosystems to thrive," said Patrick Roehrdanz, co-author and scientist at Conservation International. "Understanding the way these pressing issues are interconnected is key to implementing effective conservation solutions before it's too late."

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