ALERT member James Watson, a leading conservation biologist, tells us about his hot-off-the-press research and its alarming messages for nature conservation.
In our recent research on the "global human footprint," we discovered that over half of the world's land area has been completely converted to human-dominated land-uses.
And now we have added to this finding with another alarming discovery, in a paper just published in Conservation Letters: habitat degradation varies hugely across Earth's major ecosystem types.
For example, chilly tundra environments have been only slightly modified, whereas others, such as mangrove forests and subtropical forests, have been decimated, with over 90 percent destroyed for human uses.
Rampant Habitat Loss
Our new study reveals that, since 1992, when the landmark Convention on Biological Diversity was ratified, an additional 450 million hectares of nature habitat -- an area two-thirds the size of Australia -- has been destroyed by human land-uses. Much of this loss occurred in regions that had already suffered considerable habitat destruction.
We found that almost half of the world’s 800 Ecoregions -- places with distinctive animal and plant communities -- should be classified at "very high risk," with destruction of the Ecoregion being 25 times greater in extent than existing protected areas.
And 41 Ecoregions are in "crisis" -- losing habitat so rapidly that there is little left to protect. Crisis Ecoregions are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea) and Africa (Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola).
The best tool that nations have at their disposal to combat habitat loss, alongside strict land-use planning and regulation, is the creation of large, well-connected protected areas, especially in places that are at risk of future destruction.
Problems in Wealthy Countries Too
What is arguably our most worrying finding is that many developed countries, such as the U.S., Australia, and Canada, have worsening ratios of habitat loss and protection in many of their Ecoregions.
Among industrial nations, Australia is the worst performer of all, with habitat conversion greatly outpacing protection in 20 of its most biologically rich Ecoregions.
Our findings are a giant red flag. It is now time for all nations to undertake a full and frank assessment of how their efforts to protect nature and conserve rare ecosystems are progressing.