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The task of ensuring affordable access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all is one of the major challenges of the 21st century.
Updated: 18 min 23 sec ago

Climate change and food demand could shrink species’ habitats by almost a quarter by 2100

Fri, 06/11/2020 - 10:06

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, analysed changes in the geographical range of 16,919 species from 1700 to the present day. The data were also used to predict future changes up to the year 2100 under 16 different climate and socio-economic scenarios. 

A diverse abundance of species underpins essential ecosystem functions from pest regulation to carbon storage. Species’ vulnerability to extinction is strongly impacted by their geographical range size, and devising effective conservation strategies requires a better understanding of how ranges have changed in the past, and how they will change under alternative future scenarios.

“The habitat size of almost all known birds, mammals and amphibians is shrinking, primarily because of land conversion by humans as we continue to expand our agricultural and urban areas,” said Dr Robert Beyer in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, first author of the report.

Some species are more heavily impacted than others. A worrying 16% of species have lost over half their estimated natural historical range, a figure that could rise to 26% by the end of the century. 

Species’ geographical ranges were found to have recently shrunk most significantly in tropical areas. Until around 50 years ago, most agricultural development was in Europe and North America. Since then, large areas of land have been converted for agriculture in the tropics: clearance of rainforest for oil palm plantations in South East Asia, and for pasture land in South America, for example.

As humans move their activities deeper into the tropics, the effect on species ranges is becoming disproportionately larger because of a greater species richness in these areas, and because the natural ranges of these species are smaller to begin with.

“The tropics are biodiversity hotspots with lots of small-range species. If one hectare of tropical forest is converted to agricultural land, a lot more species lose larger proportions of their home than in places like Europe,” said Beyer.

The results predict that climate change will have an increasing impact on species’ geographical ranges. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will alter habitats significantly, for example: other studies have predicted that without climate action, large parts of the Amazon may change from canopy rainforest to a savannah-like mix of woodland and open grassland in the next 100 years. 

“Species in the Amazon have adapted to living in a tropical rainforest. If climate change causes this ecosystem to change, many of those species won’t be able to survive - or they will at least be pushed into smaller areas of remaining rainforest,” said Beyer.

He added: “We found that the higher the carbon emissions, the worse it gets for most species in terms of habitat loss.” 

The results provide quantitative support for policy measures aiming at limiting the global area of agricultural land – for example by sustainably intensifying food production, encouraging dietary shifts towards eating less meat, and stabilising population growth. 

The conversion of natural vegetation to agricultural and urban land, and the transformation of suitable habitat caused by climate change are major causes of the decline in range sizes, and two of the most important threats to global terrestrial biodiversity.

“Whether these past trends in habitat range losses will reverse, continue, or accelerate will depend on future global carbon emissions and societal choices in the coming years and decades,” Professor Andrea Manica in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who led the study.

He added: “While our study quantifies the drastic consequences for species’ ranges if global land use and climate change are left unchecked, they also demonstrate the tremendous potential of timely and concerted policy action for halting - and indeed partially reversing - previous trends in global range contractions. It all depends on what we do next.”

This research was supported by the European Research Council. 

Reference
Beyer, R.M. & Manica, A.: ‘Historical and projected future range sizes of the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians.’ Nature Communications, Nov 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19455-9

Mammals, birds and amphibians worldwide have lost on average 18% of their natural habitat range as a result of changes in land use and climate change, a new study has found. In a worst-case scenario this loss could increase to 23% over the next 80 years.  

We found that the higher the carbon emissions, the worse it gets for most species in terms of habitat loss.Robert BeyerUlet Ifansasti/ GreenpeaceBaby orangutans in Central Kalimantan. Expansion of oil palm plantations is destroying their forest habitat.


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Globalised economy making water, energy and land insecurity worse: study

Mon, 26/10/2020 - 00:54

Countries meet their needs for goods and services through domestic production and international trade. As a result, countries place pressures on natural resources both within and beyond their borders.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used macroeconomic data to quantify these pressures. They found that the vast majority of countries and industrial sectors are highly exposed both directly, via domestic production, and indirectly, via imports, to over-exploited and insecure water, energy and land resources. However, the researchers found that the greatest resource risk is due to international trade, mainly from remote countries.

The researchers are calling for an urgent enquiry into the scale and source of consumed goods and services, both in individual countries and globally, as economies seek to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Their study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also invites critical reflection on whether globalisation is compatible with achieving sustainable and resilient supply chains.

Over the past several decades, the worldwide economy has become highly interconnected through globalisation: it is now not uncommon for each component of a particular product to originate from a different country. Globalisation allows companies to make their products almost anywhere in the world in order to keep costs down.

Many mainstream economists argue this offers countries a source of competitive advantage and growth potential. However, many nations impose demands on already stressed resources in other countries in order to satisfy their own high levels of consumption.

This interconnectedness also increases the amount of risk at each step of a global supply chain. For example, the UK imports 50% of its food. A drought, flood or other severe weather event in another country puts these food imports at risk.

Now, the researchers have quantified the global water, land and energy use of 189 countries and shown that countries which are highly dependent on trade are potentially more at risk from resource insecurity, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and severe weather events such as droughts and floods become more common.

“There has been plenty of research comparing countries in terms of their water, energy and land footprints, but what hasn’t been studied is the scale and source of their risks,” said Dr Oliver Taherzadeh, who led the research while a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “We found that the role of trade has been massively underplayed as a source of resource insecurity – it’s actually a bigger source of risk than domestic production.”

To date, resource use studies have been limited to certain regions or sectors, which prevents a systematic overview of resource pressures and their source. This study offers a flexible approach to examining pressures across the system at various geographical and sectoral scales.

“This type of analysis hasn’t been carried out for a large number of countries before,” said Taherzadeh. “By quantifying the pressures that our consumption places on water, energy and land resources in far-off corners of the world, we can also determine how much risk is built into our interconnected world.”

The authors of the study linked indices designed to capture insecure water, energy, and land resource use, to a global trade model in order to examine the scale and sources of national resource insecurity from domestic production and imports.

Countries with large economies, such as the US, China and Japan, are highly exposed to water shortages outside their borders due to their volume of international trade. However, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya, actually face far less risk as they are not as heavily networked in the global economy and are relatively self-sufficient in food production. 

In addition to country-level data, the researchers also examined the risks associated with specific sectors. Surprisingly, one of the sectors identified in Taherzadeh’s wider research that had the most high risk water and land use – among the top 1% of nearly 15,000 sectors analysed – was dog and cat food manufacturing in the USA, due to its high demand for animal products.

“COVID-19 has shown just how poorly-prepared governments and businesses are for a global crisis,” said Taherzadeh. “But however bad the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19 have been, climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and resource insecurity are far less predictable problems to manage – and the potential consequences are far more severe. If the ‘green economic recovery’ is to respond to these challenges, we need radically rethink the scale and source of consumption.”

Reference:
Oliver Taherzadeh et al. ‘Water, energy and land insecurity in global supply chains.’ Global Environmental Change (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102158

The first large-scale study of the risks that countries face from dependence on water, energy and land resources has found that globalisation may be decreasing, rather than increasing, the security of global supply chains.

By quantifying the pressures that our consumption places on water, energy and land resources in far-off corners of the world, we can also determine how much risk is built into our interconnected worldOliver TaherzadehWxMomIowa County Drought


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New Crop Science Centre opens in Cambridge

Thu, 01/10/2020 - 16:16

The Crop Science Centre is an alliance between the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and the crop research organisation NIAB, an internationally recognised centre for crop innovation.

The Centre will serve as a global hub for crop science research and a base for collaborations with research partners around the world, to ensure global agricultural impact from the ground-breaking science happening in Cambridge. It includes a state-of-the-art facility to maximise the pace of research and accelerate crop improvements. 

The Centre will focus on improving the sustainability and equity of global food production. It will use an understanding of how plants work at the most fundamental level to drive transformative change in how we grow our food. Research will be aimed at reducing agricultural reliance on chemical inputs such as inorganic fertilisers, while maximising crop productivity, especially for the world’s poorest farmers. 

Professor Giles Oldroyd FRS, Russell R. Geiger Professor of Crop Science at the University of Cambridge and Inaugural Director of the Crop Science Centre said: “This year we have seen how fragile our global systems are. The COVID-19 crisis is exposing another 120 million people to starvation worldwide, while crop yields here in the UK are suffering from changes in our climate.” 

Oldroyd, who leads an international programme to replace inorganic fertilisers, added: “We need lasting solutions for stable and secure food production, but also need to improve sustainability in agriculture. We are excited to be opening this new Centre, which can drive the transformative change we so desperately need.”

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “Urgent action is required to sustainably provide enough quality food for the world’s growing population. By combining our expertise in fundamental plant science with NIAB’s long experience in crop improvement, I am confident that we will make progress towards this vital goal.”

Dr Tina Barsby, CEO of NIAB, said: “Through transformative crop science technologies, research at the new Centre aims to ensure even the world’s poorest farmers can grow enough food. This work is at the top of the international agenda.”

Private donations from the late Russell R. Geiger and Robert and Susan Cawthorn helped to establish the Centre, alongside donations from NIAB and the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association (CUPGRA). Professor Oldroyd’s research programme is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Further information about the Crop Science Centre is available at www.cropsciencecentre.org

A new Centre in Cambridge, designed to fast-track technologies to sustainably improve farmers’ yields worldwide, was launched today. 

This year we have seen how fragile our global systems are...we are excited to be opening this new Centre, which can drive the transformative change we so desperately need.Giles Oldroyd NIABCrop Science Centre building


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