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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES In most developed countries, original forest cover was lost and converted to farmland long
There are three major environmental issues listed by the UN. These include threats to ago. This has ecological consequences and many countries now have national parks and
habitats and organisms on land as well as underwater as well as resource depletion. other ways of preserving land for future use. Now, much of the world's biodiversity is found
Habitat and Biodiversity Loss in tropical forests. Unfortunately, tropical forests are being cut down at the rate of 50 football
fields a minute. Yikes! Why would we need to make so many football fields?

Despite the Asian elephant being endangered, they are still used as entertainment for
tourists. GVI supports an elephant sanctuary in Thailand where these magnificent It used to be (before the 1980s) that quickly growing human populations in tropical countries
animals can be protected. were the main drivers behind forest loss. Individuals and families would clear plots of land
Forests are key to producing the very air we breathe, yet forests are being depleted at a rate for cattle, houses or small farms. Nowadays, large commercial agriculture is behind most of
of 13 million hectares every year, according to UN statistics. Extinctions are happening at the forest clearing—crops, trees and livestock for the global market usually replace tropical
what scientists estimate to be about 1000 times the normal pace. Not only are we losing some forests.
very special flora and fauna, but we are also damaging our ecosystems, throwing them out of
balance, the effects of which we cannot anticipate because this it is such an incredibly
intricate and complex system.
The statistics can be incredibly shocking when you read them at first. The key is to use direct
your outrage into action. Innumerable organisations have been working to protect local Many tropical forests are being rapidly cleared for agriculture. In the left column, the Chaco
ecosystems for many under years, one of the most recent being the UN, who have set thorn forest (A) in Argentina and Bolivia is converted to soybean fields (B and C); the giant
specific objectives under UNSDG 15, life on land. Help us at GVI further these anteater (D) and maned wolf (E) that live in that forest are threatened by habitat loss. On the
objectives through volunteering on one of our wildlife conservation programs. On each right, species-rich forests in Borneo (F) are cleared for oil palm plantations (G and H).
of these programs, you will gather data which will help to inform local wildlife park or Bornean pitcher plants (I) and orangutans (J) are heading toward extinction. Image from
sanctuary managers. This data will also be used to present policies to other organisations here.
and governments in order to preserve other habitats around the world. Volunteer to
help protect jaguars or turtle in Costa Rica or cheetahs in South Africa.
Further Reading: 4 Reasons Why The Environment Needs Elephants Tropical forests are not the only ecosystems undergoing habitat loss. Temperate forests,
wetlands and coral reefs (the "rainforests of the sea") are all only a portion of what they used
to be. Mountain habitats, grasslands, marine and aquatic habitats are being destroyed for
human energy, agriculture and fishing needs.

An issue related to habitat loss is habitat fragmentation, where a habitat that was once
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity—it is the number one reason species continuous is split up into smaller pieces. This has big impacts on animals that can't move
go extinct. Clearcutting forests to create fields, filling in wetlands to build houses, and between patches of suitable habitat—all of a sudden, their home becomes an island in a sea
creating dams that change river flow are all examples of habitat destruction. Mediterranean of roads, construction sites and ranches. Fragmented habitat makes it harder to find food, and
ecosystems and temperate forests have already lost 80% of their original cover. The rapidly harder to find a mate because individuals and populations become isolated from each other.
growing human population is putting more and more pressure on existing habitats. This leads to decreased survival and reproduction of the species in fragmented habitats.
Breaking a habitat into fragments also increases the amount of edge in the remaining habitat.
Edges are usually less desirable habitat, as they provide less shelter and are more likely to be
degraded by the disturbance that fragmented the habitat in the first place.
Impact of habitat loss on species

Habitat loss poses the greatest threat to species. The world's forests, swamps, plains, lakes,
and other habitats continue to disappear as they are harvested for human consumption and
cleared to make way for agriculture, housing, roads, pipelines and the other hallmarks of
Fragmented forest in Madagascar, home to many endemic species. Image from here. industrial development. Without a strong plan to create terrestrial and marine protected areas
important ecological habitats will continue to be lost.

There are a few ways of doing conservation in fragmented habitats:

Expand the habitat—prevent destruction of the existing habitat, and protect more fragments.
The larger, the better since more things can live in bigger fragments. Some animals have © National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF
"home ranges" that might be bigger than a fragment of habitat.
© National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF

Losing their homes because of the growing needs of humans

Make the habitat quality better. Managing habitat fragments to limit invasive species, soil
erosion and other processes that degrade the habitat is key to maintaining biodiversity. Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to the variety of life on this planet today.

Increase the connectivity between fragments. Allowing organisms to move between habitat It is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's Red List (those
fragments can increase survival and genetic diversity of organisms. Creating corridors of species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").
suitable habitat between fragments is a way to allow movement.

It can seem unfair for developed nations to blame developing countries for habitat and
biodiversity loss when developed countries have already destroyed so much of their own Increasing food production is a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into
habitats and biodiversity in the process of development. It is true that citizens of developed agricultural land.
countries take more than their fair share of resources and it is unsustainable for everyone on
the planet to live like someone from a developed country. However, in addition to reducing
consumption in developed countries, slowing habitat loss in developing countries is essential Why is it happening?
for conservation biology. Tropical countries often have higher species richness than
temperate countries, and developing countries tend to be in the tropics. There are a lot of
international non-profit organizations based in developed countries that are dedicated to Forest loss and degradation is mostly caused by the expansion of agricultural land, intensive
helping developing countries grow in sustainable ways without squandering all their harvesting of timber, wood for fuel and other forest products, as well as overgrazing.
resources. Preventing or slowing habitat loss in developing countries is less finger-pointing
and more working together for everyone's good.
High land conversion rates

The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million ha (equivalent to Protected Areas for a Living Planet
2.4% of total forests). It is estimated that in the 1990s, almost 70% of deforested areas were
converted to agricultural land. Forest protection

Marine protection

Around half of the world's original forests have disappeared, and they are still being removed Wetlands protection
at a rate 10x higher than any possible level of regrowth. As tropical forests contain at least
half the Earth's species, the clearance of some 17 million hectares each year is a dramatic
loss. Orangutans and other species lose habitat to palm oil plantations

Palm oil plantations in the tropical regions of Africa, Latin America, and Asia have led the
large scale destruction of important habitat for many species. The largest growth of palm
Coastal and marine areas oil plantations has been in Malaysia and Indonesia where large tracts of rainforest are cleared
to grow palm oil crops. Orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and many other species are
increasingly isolated and their sources of food and shelter are in decline. Human-wildlife
Human impact on terrestrial and marine natural resources results in marine and coastal conflict also increases because without sufficient natural habitat these species come into
degradation. Population growth, urbanization, industrialization and tourism are all factors. contact with humans and are often killed or captured.

In 1994, it was estimated that 37% of the global population lived within 60 km of the coast. Read more about palm oil & biodiversity loss
Poverty, consumption and land-use patterns contribute to the degradation of marine habitats
and to the destruction of the species that rely on them to survive.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia, is a network of fully protected areas within a Introduction
larger ...
Habitat loss has been, and still is, the greatest threat to biodiversity (Brooks et al. 2002;
© WWF / Jürgen Freund Hanski 2005; Groom et al. 2006). According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
(2005), more than half of several biomes, including the Mediterranean and temperate forests
© WWF / Jürgen Freund and tropical and sub-tropical dry broadleaf forests, had been converted by 1990; in Western
Protected areas are one of the most effective tools for conserving species and natural habitats. Europe, only 2–3% of original forests remain in natural or natural-like condition (WWF
Report 2001). Zooming into more detailed classifications of habitat does not change the
They also contribute to the livelihoods and well-being of local communities and society at
large. picture. As an example, a recent in-depth assessment of changes in the quality and quantity
of 368 habitat types in Finland (Raunio et al. 2008) classified the vast majority either as
threatened (189 habitat types) or near threatened (105), while only 74 habitat types were
considered to be of least concern. The conversion of natural habitats to agricultural land,
For example, well-planned and well-managed protected areas can help to safeguard pastures, plantations, built areas and infrastructure continues, propelled by increasing human
freshwater and food supplies, reduce poverty, and reduce the impacts of natural disasters. population size and by accelerating demand for resources.
It is self-evident that populations and species will suffer when their habitat becomes shows that the 2010 target was not met, biodiversity continues to decline, and the indicators
degraded or is lost completely. Nonetheless, many issues concerning the response of reflecting the various pressures on biodiversity continue to increase. At hindsight, the 2010
biodiversity to habitat loss and fragmentation are less clear-cut or they are not widely target was overambitious and vague, there was no clear idea of how to reach it and how to
appreciated. These issues include non-linearity in the ecological response of species to measure success. The new target year is 2020, and we are now wiser, we have metrics and
habitat loss and fragmentation at the landscape level, about which I have more to say in this more specific measures that facilitate reaching the goal. Major subsidiary targets relate to the
article. The response of species to habitat loss and other environmental changes is typically questions how much habitat should be protected and where.
not instantaneous, particularly not when we consider changes at large spatial scales. Habitat
In this article, I first discuss the consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation for the
loss leaves large numbers of species to gradually decline and go extinct. If we are not aware
ecological viability of metapopulations at the landscape level with a focus on extinction
of this “extinction debt” (Tilman et al. 1994) we are prone to underestimate the level of
thresholds (the critical minimum amount of habitat that is necessary for long-term
threat to biodiversity (Hanski and Ovaskainen 2002). Habitat loss often involves
persistence of metapopulations). I argue that apart from the amount of habitat, the degree of
deteriorating habitat quality, either due to intentional changes in land use, such as the
fragmentation at the landscape level makes a significant difference. The next section gives a
conversion of natural boreal forests to intensively managed forests in northern Europe, or
brief synopsis of the genetic factors that threaten long-term viability of populations and
due to unintentional damage, exemplified by increasing edge effects with decreasing area
metapopulations (inbreeding depression and fixation of deleterious mutations that lead to a
and increasing fragmentation of habitat. Hundreds of studies have examined the relative roles
permanent reduction of fitness). Based on these biological considerations, I put forward an
of habitat quality, habitat fragment area and connectivity (inverse of isolation) in influencing
option for habitat conservation that represents, in my opinion, a cost-effective and realistic
the occurrence of species in fragmented landscapes (reviewed by Fahrig 1997, 2003; Prugh
approach. This approach could make an important contribution towards reaching the target
et al. 2008). Unfortunately, much of this work is of limited value as it does not adequately
for conservation agreed in the UN biodiversity summit in Nagoya in 2010 that aims to put an
recognize that the relative roles of habitat quality, fragment area and connectivity depend
end to the decline of biodiversity by 2020.
greatly on landscape structure and heterogeneity, and hence there cannot be a universal
answer to the question “which is more important” (Hanski 2005). Go to:
Habitat loss and fragmentation have genetic and evolutionary consequences. I shall touch
Habitat Loss and Extinction Thresholds
below the question about reduced viability of small and fragmented populations due to
inbreeding and random fixation of deleterious mutations. Concerning the evolutionary Long-term viability of populations and metapopulations depends on a large number of
dynamics, habitat loss and fragmentation are likely to alter many components of natural demographic, genetic, and environmental factors (Lande 1993, 1998). At the landscape level,
selection and hence lead to evolutionary change. A prime example is selection on dispersal: the fraction of available habitat that is occupied by a species is an important indicator of its
several costs and benefits of dispersal are affected by the spatial structure of populations and viability. Over the years, substantial theory has been developed for the dynamics of species
hence by the physical structure of the environment, which are modified by habitat loss and living as metapopulations in fragmented landscapes (Hanski 1999; Hanski and
fragmentation. Whether the net effect is increased or decreased rate of dispersal has been Gaggiotti 2004), with the specific aim of predicting the fraction of occupied habitat
much debated (Heino and Hanski 2001; Ronce and Olivieri 2004), and once again it is fragments. These models are broadly similar to epidemiological models, which address the
apparent that there is not a single answer (Hanski 2005). Furthermore, whatever the answer dynamics in the numbers of infected individuals in a host population (Anderson and
in a particular case, there is no basis to assume that the evolutionary change would May 1991). A key result of metapopulation and epidemiological models relates to the
necessarily increase the viability of populations and metapopulations. It is even possible that threshold at which a metapopulation in a fragmented landscape or a parasite in a host
evolutionary changes increase the likelihood of population extinction (Gyllenberg et population goes extinct. The extinction threshold depends both on the traits of the organism
al. 2002), though luckily “evolutionary suicide” is more of academic interest than a cause for and the characteristics of the environment (Hanski and Ovaskainen 2000). For a given
real concern, even if some convincing examples were reported. species, the number of habitat fragments (or susceptible host individuals; Kermack and
McKendrick 1927) must exceed a threshold value for the species to persist. Landscapes with
The year 2010, the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity, was supposed to be
little and fragmented habitat are likely to be below the extinction threshold, landscapes with
the turning point in the loss of biodiversity, but a comprehensive report (Butchart et al. 2010)
much habitat are above the threshold. The purpose of the models is to quantify what is
“little” and what is “much”, and how much habitat loss and fragmentation is compatible with forest (Gracilinnaus microtarsus, Juliomys spp. and Micoureus paraguayanus) on the
viability. Figure 1a gives an example of the extinction threshold for the Glanville fritillary assumption that these species are not affected by forest fragmentation (R. Pardini, personal
butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) that lives in a large network of ca. 4,000 small meadows in the communication)
Åland Islands in Finland. Some parts of the network are sparse and apparently below the
extinction threshold as the butterfly is absent, other parts are above the extinction threshold
The metapopulation theory applies most naturally to highly fragmented habitats, such as
and the butterfly is common.
networks of small meadows, but the processes of local extinction and colonization occur in
any kind of habitat. When the habitat is continuously distributed, movements of individuals
are unrestricted and many species can be expected to occur practically everywhere. Habitat
loss and fragmentation impair free movements with adverse consequences for the
distribution and abundance of species, as Curtis (1956, p. 729) observed more than half a
century ago: “Within the remnant forest stands, a number of changes of possible importance
may take place… Various accidental happenings in any given stand over a period of years
may eliminate one or more species from the community. Such a local catastrophe under
natural conditions would be quickly healed by migration of new individuals from adjacent
unaffected areas… In the isolated stands, however, opportunities for inward migration are
small or nonexistent. As a result, the stands gradually lose some of their species, and those
remaining achieve unusual positions of relative abundance.” In a paper that has become a
classic with >1000 citations, Andrén (1994) reviewed empirical studies of birds and
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mammals inhabiting networks of true islands and forest fragments in farmlands to answer the
question how much forest cover can be lost before specialist forest species cross their
extinction threshold. (In parentheses, I note that “forest cover” refers to forests that have the
Fig. 1 features and qualities that the species in question requires. These qualities may not be present
in managed forests and plantations, which therefore do not contribute to “forest cover” for
that species.) Andrén (1994) found that an increasing fraction of studies reported an effect of
a Metapopulation size of the Glanville fritillary Melitaea cinxia as a function of the
habitat fragment area and/or isolation on species number or population density when the
metapopulation capacity (λM) in 25 habitat patch networks in the Åland Islands in Finland
proportion of suitable habitat in the landscape was <30%, and nearly all studies reported such
(these networks represent different parts of the entire 4,000-meadow network).
Metapopulation capacity measures the amount of habitat and the level of fragmentation in effects when forest cover was <10%.
the network (more habitat and less fragmented to the right). The vertical axis gives the size The literature on thresholds involving habitat cover is somewhat confused by different
of the metapopulation based on a survey of habitat occupancy in 1 year. The empirical data researchers having addressed different, though related, questions. Andrén (1994) and many
have been fitted by a spatially realistic metapopulation model. The result provides a clear-cut
others have asked about the level of forest cover below which one may detect the effects of
example of the extinction threshold (from Hanski and Ovaskainen 2000). b Incidences of
occupancy in forest specialist non-volant small mammal species in fragmented landscapes in habitat fragment size and connectivity on species richness or population densities as
the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Data were obtained from three landscapes each ca. 100 km2 in indicators of adverse consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation. Reduced population
area but with dissimilar forest cover (10, 30, and 50%) and from continuous forests (100%). densities of, e.g., top predators may have cascading effects in the community (Soulé et
Small mammals were sampled at 15 to 20 sites per landscape, widely scattered across the al. 2003) and even lead to the extinction of some species. However, the ultimate extinction
three fragmented landscapes and the continuous forest. The broken lines indicate that the threshold, the one that is treated in metapopulation theory, refers to the point along a gradient
incidence reaches zero between two levels of fragmentation that were sampled. The data are of habitat loss and fragmentation where the metapopulation loses viability because
from Table S2 in Pardini et al. (2010). I have excluded three species with higher incidences colonizations do not suffice to compensate for extinctions. Figure 1a gives an example of
in the fragments in the most fragmented landscape (10% forest cover) than in continuous
such a threshold for one exceptionally well-studied butterfly species. Obtaining comparable were relocated into one part of the landscape, in which forest cover would become 30%.
information for many other species is arduous. There would be no forest left in the rest of the landscape, but the part with 30% cover, if
large enough, would have viable populations according to Fig. 1b. Therefore, I conclude that
One recent study that has managed the feat is due to Pardini et al. (2010) working on the
the reason why the 10% landscape has lost the species is due to fragmentation: the total
occurrence of non-volant small mammal species in the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Pardini et al.
amount of habitat may be large enough, but it occurs in such a scattered pattern that
(2010) sampled 39 species at 68 sites across three landscapes with dissimilar remaining
specialist species remain below their extinction thresholds.
forest cover, 10, 30, and 50%, as well as in the adjoining continuous forest areas. As
expected, the occurrence of habitat generalist species was unaffected by forest cover, but Go to:
forest specialist species showed a striking pattern. In most species, the incidence of
occurrence was roughly the same in landscapes with 30, 50, and 100% forest cover, but the Genetic Viability of Populations and Metapopulations
incidence dropped to zero in all but a single species in the landscape with 10% forest cover
Populations living in fragmented landscapes are threatened by multiple ecological and
(Fig. 1b). Note that this pattern applies both to common species that have a high incidence in
environmental factors, but their viability can also become compromised by inbreeding,
the less fragmented landscapes and to many uncommon species, though some rare species
random loss of beneficial mutations (leading to loss of adaptive potential), and random
were recorded only in continuous forests. The example in Fig. 1b provides convincing
fixation of deleterious mutations (increasing genetic load) (Lande 1994, 1998; Frankham et
support for the hypothesis that the extinction threshold for many specialist forest species is
al. 2002). The Glanville fritillary in the Åland Islands has hundreds of small local
around 20% forest cover (Lande 1988; Hanski 2005 and references therein). These species
populations with fast population turnover (Hanski 1999). New populations are often
are unwilling or unable to cross wide spaces outside their habitat, unlike the butterfly in
established by just a single dispersing female (Austin et al., in press), which means that, in
Fig. 1a, which persists in a network of meadows though only a small percentage of the total
the following generation, matings among close relatives are common. Just one generation of
area is covered by the meadows. Pardini et al.’s (2010) example is particularly important
full sib mating leads to inbreeding depression (Haikola et al. 2001) that is substantial enough
because forest loss and fragmentation have occurred a long time ago in their study region,
to increase the risk of local extinction (Saccheri et al. 1998; Nieminen et al. 2001). The entire
hence the occurrence of small mammals can be assumed to have settled down into a
metapopulation, with a breeding population of a few thousand individuals at most and a
quasi-stationary state rather than to reflect transient dynamics following habitat loss
history of >100 years in isolation may suffer of reduced fitness, which is indicated by crosses
(Metzger et al. 2009; R. Pardini, personal communication).
of butterflies from the Åland Islands with butterflies from elsewhere in northern Europe
Figure 1 gives two clear-cut examples of extinction threshold in different kinds of having somewhat increased egg hatching rates (A. Duplouy, personal communication). In
fragmented landscapes. In the case of the Glanville fritillary inhabiting a network of theory, “mutational meltdown”, gradual erosion of fitness due to fixation of deleterious
meadows (Fig. 1a), butterflies may fly distances up to several kilometers between the mutations, may threaten populations of the order of 1,000 individuals (Lande 1994; Lynch et
meadows, and the amount of habitat and the actual spatial configuration of meadows is al. 1995). Highly fragmented metapopulation structure with restricted dispersal, which the
measured by “metapopulation capacity”, a measure that is derived from metapopulation Glanville fritillary exemplifies (Hanski 1999), decreases the genetic effective population size
theory (Hanski and Ovaskainen 2000). In the case of specialist forest-inhabiting small (Whitlock and Barton 1997) and may enhance the accumulation of deleterious mutations
mammals in Fig. 1b, forest cover is the relevant measure, as the small mammals disperse (Higgins and Lynch 2001).
poorly across non-forest habitats. But does habitat fragmentation matter at all in this case?
The smaller the population or the metapopulation, the greater the risk of mutational
Not according to Lenore Fahrig (1997, 2003), who would consider that Fig. 1b is an example
meltdown, which is therefore a serious concern in many human-dominated landscapes that
of habitat loss, while fragmentation in the sense of the exact spatial configuration of the
harbor innumerable, completely isolated populations. The populations may be large enough
remaining habitat within the landscape makes a small difference at most. However, whether
to survive in the face of demographic and environmental challenges for a long time, but
the reduced incidence of occupancy is attributed to habitat loss or fragmentation is a question
mutation accumulation proceeds like a cancer, first with no ill effects at all but ultimately
of spatial scale. Consider the landscape in the Brazilian Atlantic forest that has only 10%
leading to an inevitable demise. Figure 2 gives another example on the Glanville fritillary,
forest cover and has lost all but one of the forest specialist small mammal species (Fig. 1b).
comparing the life-time production of larvae by females from the Åland Islands and from a
Imagine that the forest fragments in this landscape, which extends across hundreds of km2,
relatively small population that has been completely isolated on a small island in the middle
of the Gulf of Finland for at least 75 years (the population had around 100 reproducing Conservation Landscapes: Third-of-Third
females in 2009). The life-time number of larvae produced and many other indicators of
In the UN biodiversity summit in Nagoya in 2010, delegates from more than 190 countries
individual performance are very much reduced in this population (A. L. K. Mattila et al., in
agreed to increase the percentage of protected areas to 17% on land and to 10% on coastal
preparation), most likely due to fixation of deleterious mutations as crosses with other
and marine areas by 2020. These are definitely positive decisions, even if the appropriate
populations show immediate fitness recovery. The population is not yet extinct—the reduced
targets for conservation continue to be debated in the literature (Jennings 2000; Rodrigues et
number of offspring is still large enough to yield positive expected growth rate—but the
al. 2004). However, the implementation of the Nagoya target raises two major concerns. First,
population is vulnerable; it suffers from a permanent handicap. Reduced fitness in isolated
a huge proportion of the current protected areas on land are located in regions with
small or relatively small populations has been reported for mammals (Hedrick 1995;
unproductive soils and severe climate at high latitudes and altitudes (Scott et al. 2001). For
Ellegren et al. 1996), birds (Westemeier et al. 1998), reptiles (Madsen et al. 1996), fish
instance, in Finland, with the largest remaining percentage forest cover in Europe (72%),
(Sato 2006), and plants (Groom and Preuninger 2001). Declining absolute fitness will
13% of all forested land is protected, but 90% of the protected areas are located north of
ultimately reduce population size and lead to what Gilpin and Soulé (1986) called the
66°N, and a very large fraction of these northern “forests” are so barren that they have
extinction vortex, a spiral of feedbacks between demographic and genetic factors that
stunted mountain birch at best. Of the 17 million ha of forested land in southern Finland,
reinforce each other and eventually lead to extinction.
only 3% are protected, and in the case of productive forest land (annual increment >1 m3/ha)
the figures are 15 million ha and 1.6% (Virkkala et al. 2000). We are fooling ourselves if the
17% agreed upon in Nagoya are located mostly on marginal lands, which is also against the
letter of the agreement, to protect “especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity
and ecosystem services, … ecologically representative and well connected systems of
protected areas… integrated into the wider landscapes” (, strategic goal
C). The second problem is related. Even if there was political will to protect more forests and
other habitats on productive lands—the kinds of habitats that really matter for
biodiversity—there would be limited opportunities, in many parts of the world, to protect
large continuous areas of natural or natural-like habitats. There simply are no such areas left.
Based on our knowledge about the dynamics of biodiversity outlined in the first part of this
Fig. 2 article, I propose an approach to large-scale habitat conservation that I call a third-of-third
approach: a third of the land area is managed as multi-use conservation landscapes (CL),
within which a third of the area is protected. This means that a third of the third, about 10%
Life-time production of pre-diapause larvae by Glanville fritillary females from the Åland
Islands and from an old (>75 years), small (around 100 reproducing females) and completely of the total area, is protected, which is less than the target set in Nagoya, but this 10% is in
isolated population on the island of Pikku Tytärsaari in the middle of the Gulf of Finland. addition to the existing national parks and other protected areas, which are often located on
The results were obtained in an experiment conducted under common garden conditions in marginal lands. The CLs should be located as evenly as possible across regions and countries
the laboratory. Note that the fitness of females from Pikku Tytärsaari is much smaller than to guarantee representativeness of the protected areas (Rodrigues et al. 2004). There are four
that of females from the large metapopulation in the Åland Islands, and in the former advantages to this approach.
population one generation of full sib mating has a less adverse effect than in the
metapopulation in the Åland Islands, apparently because all individuals in Pikku Tytärsaari First, the third-of-third approach is a cost-effective way of protecting biodiversity, habitats,
are closely related and ecosystems. The key rationale is the finding, illustrated in Fig. 1b, that a large fraction of
specialist species persists in landscapes with 30% cover of the original vegetation. The
generalist species would persist as well, and so would species that live in particular minor
Go to: habitats within the broader landscape, such as the Glanville fritillary in Fig. 1a (though there
is inevitably regional variation in the density of particular minor habitats with consequences
for the persistence of the respective species). The example in Fig. 1b is based on forests, but It has to be admitted that CLs are more complex for governing and management than
I presume that the third-of-third approach would also apply to other landscape-covering conventional unbroken protected areas that are separated from human activity. CLs can be
habitat types. Effective protection relies on the assumption that there is no habitat more vulnerable to habitat degradation, poaching and other disruptions, including road kills
degradation or other anthropogenic disturbances within individual protected fragments. In of vertebrates (Forman and Alexander 1998; Roger et al. 2011). A challenge in integrated
addition, these fragments should be large enough to avoid excessive edge effects and to conservation and management is gradual evolution of management practices. For the
contain small breeding populations of specialist species. To contain demographically and management practices to develop towards favoring biodiversity rather than degrading it
genetically viable metapopulations of most species, CLs as a whole should be some tens of requires institutions that support alertness, adaptation, and control (Primmer and
thousands of ha in size. As a numerical example, a 20,000-ha conservation landscape could Karppinen 2010). Local communities are more likely to have an interest in conserving nature
have 6,500 ha of protected habitat in some 100 fragments. Even a landscape of 20,000 ha is when it supports their livelihoods (Ostrom 1990), which would be the case with many people
not large enough for large-bodied vertebrates (Gurd et al. 2001), but such species are living within CLs.
typically so mobile that they would persist in an archipelago of CLs if people learn to live
The notion of CLs is related to many other conceptual models. Harris’s (1984) book outlined
with them.
a long-rotation model of forest management that allocates a certain area to an old-growth
The second advantage is practical: there are opportunities to establish CLs in regions and fragment, around which forest stands are harvested in a rotational manner to maintain
countries where there would be no opportunity to establish conventional national parks or connectivity. Daily’s (1997) countryside biogeography is focused on developing ways to
other large protected areas that would exclude humans. Even then, one might not have one enhance features in agricultural landscapes that would maintain biodiversity. Both models
third of the planned CL immediately available for protection, or its habitat quality might be were heavily influenced by MacArthur and Wilson’s (1967) island biogeographic theory.
very low. In these cases, the 30% target can be reached, in the course of time, with The measures of landscape cohesion presented by Opdam et al. (2003) were derived from
appropriate restoration programs. metapopulation models and were meant to characterize the capacity of landscapes to support
biodiversity. In Europe, the Natura 2000 network of protected areas aims at preserving
Third, a long-term challenge for conventional national parks and other large protected areas
biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes in practice, though the implementation has been
is changing environmental conditions with climate change. Researchers have repeatedly
focused more on individual sites rather than landscapes (Gaston et al. 2008). It would be time
called for increased large-scale connectivity to allow species to move across landscapes
to upgrade the Natura 2000 network to a Natura CL network.
(Heller and Zavaleta 2009). If a third of the land area was covered by CLs, they would
provide the necessary connectivity. Go to:
Fourth, a disadvantage of conventional national parks and large protected areas is that they Acknowledgments
largely separate biodiversity and people. Within CLs, biodiversity and people coexist, and
the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity and natural habitats, including climate I thank Renata Pardini for advice on the occurrence of small mammals in the Brazilian
mitigation especially in the tropics (DeFries and Rosenzweig 2010), have direct benefits to Atlantic forest region, Sami Ojanen for preparing the figures, and Anni Arponen, Mar
local communities and to the society at large (Ostrom 1990). Cabeza, Heini Kujala, Russ Lande, Joona Lehtomäki, Laura Meller, Reed Noss, Otso
Ovaskainen, Renata Pardini, and Eeva Primmer for comments on the manuscript.
Go to:
At this point, I want to make it very clear that I am not advocating downgrading or
fragmenting existing national parks and other protected areas, which are essential for halting Footnotes
the decline of biodiversity as well as providing many other benefits. I am suggesting that we
should be thinking of new ways of increasing the percentage of protected areas to reach the A synopsis by the Crafoord Laureate in Biosciences 2011.
17% target set in Nagoya and to stop the decline of biodiversity by 2020.
Go to:
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2000.  sustainability: Configuring society so that each person can meet their own needs
and greatest potential, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and
planning for future generations to maintain this potential.
Through increased adoption of sustainable practices, we can reduce habitat loss and its
consequences.  endemism: The ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic
location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type;
LEARNING OBJECTIVES organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found
 biodiversity: The diversity (number and variety of species) of plant and animal life
within a region.

Habitat Loss

Humans rely on technology to modify their environment and replace certain functions that
were once performed by the natural ecosystem. Other species cannot do this. Elimination of
their ecosystem – whether it is a forest, a desert, a grassland, a freshwater estuary, or a
marine environment – will kill the individuals within most species. Remove the entire habitat
within the range of a species and, unless they are one of the few species that do well in
human-built environments, the species will become extinct.

Effects of Habitat Loss on Biodiversity

Habitat loss is a process of environmental change in which a natural habitat is rendered

functionally unable to support the species present. This process may be natural or unnatural,
and may be caused by habitat fragmentation, geological processes, climate change, or human
activities such as the introduction of invasive species or ecosystem nutrient depletion. In the
process of habitat destruction, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or
destroyed, reducing biodiversity.

Biodiversity loss in Sumatra: (a) One sub-species of orangutan is found only in the rain
forests of Borneo, while the other sub-species of orangutan is found only in the rain
forests of Sumatra. These animals are examples of the exceptional biodiversity of (c) the
islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Other species include the (b) Sumatran tiger and the (d)
Sumatran elephant, both of which are critically endangered. Rainforest habitat is being
removed to make way for (e) oil palm plantations such as this one in Borneo’s Sabah
Human destruction of habitats has accelerated greatly in the latter half of the twentieth
century. Natural habitats are often destroyed through human activity for the purpose of
harvesting natural resources for industry production and urbanization. Clearing habitats for
agriculture, for example, is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes
of habitat destruction include mining, logging, and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is
currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide.
Consider the exceptional biodiversity of Sumatra. It is home to one sub-species of orangutan,
a species of critically endangered elephant, and the Sumatran tiger; however half of
Sumatra’s forest is now gone. The neighboring island of Borneo, home to the other
sub-species of orangutan, has lost a similar area of forest, and forest loss continues in
protected areas. The orangutan in Borneo is listed as endangered by the International Union
for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but it is simply the most visible of thousands of species
that will not survive the disappearance of the forests of Borneo. The forests are being
removed for their timber, and to clear space for plantations of palm oil, an oil used in Europe
for many items including food products, cosmetics, and biodiesel.
A five-year estimate of global forest cover loss for the years 2000–2005 was 3.1 percent. In
the humid tropics where forest loss is primarily from timber extraction, 272,000 km2 was lost
out of a global total of 11,564,000 km2 (or 2.4 percent). In the tropics, these losses also
represent the extinction of species because of high levels of endemism.
Since the Neolithic Revolution, about 47% of the world’s forests have been lost to human
use. Present-day forests occupy about a quarter of the world’s ice-free land, with about half
of these occurring in the tropics. In temperate and boreal regions, forest area is gradually
increasing (with the exception of Siberia), but deforestation in the tropics is of major
Feeding more than seven billion human bodies takes a heavy toll on the earth’s resources.
This begins with the appropriation of about 38 percent of the earth’s land surface and about
20 percent of its net primary productivity. Added to this are the resource-hungry activities of
industrial agribusiness: everything from crops’ need for irrigation water, synthetic fertilizers,
and pesticides, to the resource costs of food packaging, transport (now a major part of global
trade), and retail.
impact on the environment. One approach is environmental management, which is based
largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science, and conservation
biology. A second approach is management of human consumption of resources, which is
based largely on information gained from economics. A third, more recent, approach adds
cultural and political concerns into the sustainability matrix.
Loss of biodiversity stems largely from the habitat loss and fragmentation produced by
human appropriation of land for development, forestry and agriculture as natural capital is
progressively converted to human-made capital. At the local human scale, sustainability
benefits accrue from the creation of green cities and sustainable parks and gardens. Similarly,
environmental problems associated with industrial agriculture and agribusiness are now
being addressed through such movements as sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and
more-sustainable business practices.


Overharvesting threatens biodiversity by degrading ecosystems and eliminating species of

plants, animals, and other organisms.


Explain why overharvesting is a threat to biodiversity

Sustainability and deforestation: Since the Neolithic Revolution, nearly half of the
world’s forests have been destroyed for human use. Sustainable practices, which preserve KEY TAKEAWAYS
environments for long-term maintenance and well-being, can help preserve habitats and
ecosystems for greater biodiversity.

Sustainability Key Points

Sustainability is a concept that describes how biological systems remain diverse and
productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of
sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term  Until recently, human populations harvested resources in limited quantities. Today,
maintenance of well-being, which has ecological, economic, political, and cultural new methods of harvest and capture contribute to overharvesting and overexploitation.
dimensions. Sustainability requires the reconciliation of environmental, social, and economic  Overharvesting stems from several factors, including an exponential increase in the
demands, which are also referred to as the “three pillars” of sustainability. human population, expanding markets, increasing demand, and improved access and
Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary for the survival and flourishing of techniques for capture.
humans and other organisms, and there are a number of ways to reduce humans’ negative
 Overharvesting natural resources for extended periods of time depletes these Effects of overharvesting
resources until they cannot recover within a short period of time; some may never
recover. As mentioned above, sustained overharvesting is one of the primary threats to biodiversity.
 Overharvesting is one of five primary activities threatening global biodiversity; Overharvesting can lead to resource destruction, including extinction at the population level
others include pollution, introduced species, habitat fragmentation, and habitat and even extinction of whole species. Depleting the numbers or amount of certain resources
destruction. can also change their quality; for example, the overharvesting of footstool palm (a wild palm
tree found in Southeast Asia, the leaves of which are used for thatching and food wrapping)
 Aquatic species are especially threatened by overharvesting, due to a situation has resulted in its leaf size becoming smaller.
known as the tragedy of the commons. Overharvesting not only threatens the resource being harvested, but can directly impact
humans as well – for example by decreasing the biodiversity necessary for medicinal
resources. A significant proportion of drugs and medicines are natural products which are
Key Terms derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources. However, unregulated and
inappropriate harvesting could potentially lead to overexploitation, ecosystem degradation,
and loss of biodiversity; further, it can negatively impact the rights of the communities and
states from which the resources are taken.
 overexploitation: Excessive and damaging use of natural resources, including
plants and animals.
Tragedy of the commons
 trawler: A fishing boat that uses a dragnet, or “trawl net,” to catch fish.
Overharvesting is a serious threat to many species, especially aquatic ones. Common
 apex predator: An animal at the top of the food chain, preying on other species but
resources – or resources that are shared, such as fisheries – are subject to an economic
not prey itself.
pressure known as “the tragedy of the commons,” in which essentially no harvester has a
motivation to exercise restraint in harvesting from a certain area, because that area is not
Overharvesting owned by that harvester. The natural outcome of harvesting common resources is their
Overharvesting, also called overexploitation, refers to harvesting a renewable resource to the For example, most fisheries are managed as a common resource even when the fishing
point of diminishing returns. Ecologists use the term to describe populations that are territory lies within a country’s territorial waters; because of this, fishers have very little
harvested at a rate that is unsustainable, given their natural rates of mortality and capacities motivation to limit their harvesting, and in fact technology gives fishers the ability to
for reproduction. The term applies to natural resources such as wild medicinal plants, grazing overfish. In a few fisheries, the biological growth of the resource is less than the potential
pastures, game animals, fish stocks, forests, and water aquifers. Sustained overharvesting can growth of the profits made from fishing if that time and money were invested elsewhere. In
lead to the destruction of the resource, and is one of the five main activities – along with these cases (for example, whales) economic forces will always drive toward fishing the
pollution, introduced species, habitat fragmentation, and habitat destruction – that threaten population to extinction.
global biodiversity today.
All living organisms require resources to survive. Overharvesting these resources for
extended periods of time can deplete natural resources to the point where they are unable to
recover within a short time frame. Humans have always harvested food and other resources
they have needed to survive; however, human populations, historically, were small and
methods of collection limited to small quantities. Exponential increase in human population,
expanding markets, and increasing demand, combined with improved access and techniques
for capture, are causing the exploitation of many species beyond sustainable levels.

Cod trawler and net: Overharvesting fisheries is an especially salient problem because of a
situation termed the tragedy of the commons. In this situation, fishers have no real incentive
to practice restraint when harvesting fish because they do not own the fisheries.

Cascade Effects

Overexploitation of species can also result in cascade effects, particularly if a habitat loses its
apex predator. Because of the loss of the top predator, a dramatic increase in their prey
species can occur. In turn, the unchecked prey can then overexploit their own food resources
until population numbers dwindle, possibly to the point of extinction.

Exotic Species

Exotic species introduced into foreign ecosystems can threaten native species through
competition for resources, predation, and disease.


Describe the impact of exotic and invasive species on native species


Key Points

 Exotic species introduced to new environments often reset the ecological conditions
in that new habitat, threatening the species that exist there; this is the reason that they
are also termed invasive species.
 Invasive species that are closely related to rare native species have the potential to
hybridize with the native species; harmful effects of hybridization have led to a
decline and even extinction of native species.
 Biologists studying frogs and toads may be inadvertently responsible for the
worldwide spread of a fungus deadly to amphibians.

Key Terms

 invasive species: any species that has been introduced to an environment where it is
not native and has since become a nuisance through rapid spread and increase in
numbers, often to the detriment of native species

Exotic Species

Exotic species are those that have been intentionally or unintentionally introduced by
humans into an ecosystem in which they did not evolve. Such introductions probably occur
frequently as natural phenomena. For example, Kudzu (Pueraria lobata), which is native to
Japan, was introduced in the United States in 1876. It was later planted for soil conservation.
Problematically, it grows too well in the southeastern United States: up to one foot each day.
It is now a pest species, covering over seven million acres in the southeastern United States.
If an introduced species is able to survive in its new habitat, that introduction is now
reflected in the observed range of the species. Human transportation of people and goods,
including the intentional transport of organisms for trade, has dramatically increased the
introduction of species into new ecosystems, sometimes at distances that are well beyond the
capacity of the species to ever travel itself and outside the range of the species’ natural
Exotic threats: The brown tree snake, Boiga irregularis, is an exotic species that has
caused numerous extinctions on the island of Guam since its accidental introduction in
Most exotic species introductions probably fail because of the low number of individuals
introduced or poor adaptation to the ecosystem they enter. Some species, however, possess
preadaptations that can make them especially successful in a new ecosystem. These exotic
species often undergo dramatic population increases in their new habitat, resetting the
ecological conditions in the new environment, while threatening the species that exist there.
For this reason, exotic species, also called invasive species, can threaten other species
through competition for resources, predation, or disease.

Exotic Species Threaten Native Species

Invasive species can change the functions of ecosystems. For example, invasive plants can
alter the fire regimen, nutrient cycling, and hydrology in native ecosystems. Invasive species
that are closely related to rare native species have the potential to hybridize with the native
species. Harmful effects of hybridization have led to a decline and even extinction of native
species. For example, hybridization with introduced cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora,
threatens the existence of California cordgrass in San Francisco Bay. Invasive species cause
competition for native species. Four hundred of the 958 endangered species under the
Endangered Species Act are at risk due to this competition.

Global decline in amphibian species: This Limosa Harlequin Frog (Atelopus limosus),
an endangered species from Panama, died from a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis.
The red lesions are symptomatic of the disease.
Lakes and islands are particularly vulnerable to extinction threats from introduced species. In
Lake Victoria, as mentioned earlier, the intentional introduction of the Nile perch was largely
responsible for the extinction of about 200 species of cichlids. The accidental introduction of  This warming trend is persistently shifting colder climates further toward the north
the brown tree snake via aircraft from the Solomon Islands to Guam in 1950 has led to the and south poles, forcing species to move with their own adapted climate norms, while
extinction of three species of birds and three to five species of reptiles endemic to the island. also facing habitat gaps along the way.
Several other species are still threatened. The brown tree snake is adept at exploiting human
transportation as a means to migrate; one was even found on an aircraft arriving in Corpus  Climate shifts will move up mountains, resulting in the crowding of species higher
Christi, Texas. Constant vigilance on the part of airport, military, and commercial aircraft in altitude and eliminating the habitat for those species adapted to those high
personnel is required to prevent the snake from moving from Guam to other islands in the elevations; indeed, some climates will completely disappear.
Pacific, especially Hawaii. Islands do not make up a large area of land on the globe, but they  Global warming will also raise ocean water levels due to melted water from glaciers
do contain a disproportionate number of endemic species because of their isolation from and the greater volume of warmer water; shorelines will be flooded, affecting many
mainland ancestors. species; many islands will disappear altogether.
It now appears that the global decline in amphibian species recognized in the 1990s is, in
some part, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which causes the disease
chytridiomycosis. There is evidence that the fungus, native to Africa, may have been spread
Key Terms
throughout the world by transport of a commonly-used laboratory and pet species: the
African clawed toad (Xenopus laevis). It may well be that biologists themselves are
responsible for spreading this disease worldwide. The North American bullfrog, Rana
catesbeiana, which has also been widely introduced as a food animal, but which easily  anthropogenic: having its origin in the influence of human activity on nature
escapes captivity, survives most infections of Batrachochytriumdendrobatidis and can act as
a reservoir for the disease.  biodiversity: the diversity (number and variety of species) of plant and animal life
within a region

Climate Change and Biodiversity

Climate Change
The global warming trend is recognized as a major biodiversity threat, especially when
combined with other threats such as habitat loss. Climate change, specifically, the anthropogenic (caused by humans) warming trend presently
underway, is recognized as a major extinction threat, particularly when combined with other
LEARNING OBJECTIVES threats such as habitat loss. Scientists disagree about the probable magnitude of the effects,
with extinction rate estimates ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent of species by 2050.
Scientists do agree, however, that climate change will alter regional climates, including
rainfall and snowfall patterns, making habitats less hospitable to the species living in them.
Evaluate climate change and its impact on biodiversity
Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity


Key Points

Grizzly-polar bear hybrid: Since 2008, grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) have been
spotted farther north than their historic range, a possible consequence of climate change.
As a result, grizzly bear habitat now overlaps polar bear (Ursus maritimus) habitat. The
two kinds of bears, which are capable of mating and producing viable offspring, are
considered separate species as historically they lived in different habitats and never met.
However, in 2006 a hunter shot a wild grizzly-polar bear hybrid known as a grolar bear,
the first wild hybrid ever found.
The warming trend will shift colder climates toward the north and south poles, forcing
species to move with their adapted climate norms while facing habitat gaps along the way.
The shifting ranges will impose new competitive regimes on species as they find themselves
in contact with other species not present in their historic range. One such unexpected species
contact is between polar bears and grizzly bears. Previously, these two species had separate
ranges. Now, with their ranges are overlapping, there are documented cases of these two
species mating and producing viable offspring. Changing climates also throw off species’
delicate timing adaptations to seasonal food resources and breeding times. Many
contemporary mismatches to shifts in resource availability and timing have recently been
Range shifts are already being observed. For example, some European bird species’ ranges
have moved 91 km northward. The same study suggests that the optimal shift based on
warming trends was double that distance, suggesting that the populations are not moving
quickly enough. Range shifts have also been observed in plants, butterflies, other insects,
freshwater fishes, reptiles, and mammals.
Climate gradients will also move up mountains, eventually crowding species higher in
altitude and eliminating the habitat for those species adapted to the highest elevations. Some
climates will completely disappear. The rate of warming appears to be accelerated in the
arctic, which is recognized as a serious threat to polar bear populations that require sea ice to
hunt seals during the winter months; seals are the only source of protein available to polar
bears. A trend to decreasing sea ice coverage has occurred since observations began in the
mid-twentieth century. The rate of decline observed in recent years is far greater than
previously predicted by climate models.
Finally, global warming will raise ocean levels due to glacial melt and the greater volume of
warmer water. Shorelines will be inundated, reducing island size, which will have an effect
on many species; a number of islands will disappear entirely. Additionally, the gradual
melting and subsequent refreezing of the poles, glaciers, and higher elevation mountains, a
cycle that has provided freshwater to environments for centuries, will also be jeopardized.
This could result in an overabundance of salt water and a shortage of fresh water.