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STUDY: Animal Agriculture’s Growing Footprint Could Threaten 17,000 Species With Habitat Loss

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Improving crop yields, shifting towards plant-based diets, cutting food waste or loss by half could reduce the footprint of global agriculture by around 1.3 million square miles by 2050.

ALEX FOX: A new study projects that if current trends continue, land clearing for agriculture will eat away at the habitats of nearly 90 percent of land animals by 2050… Humans have appropriated more than three-quarters of Earth’s lands for our own endeavors. According to research published in 2016, that leaves just 11.6 of the planet’s 57.3 million square miles of land to house the wealth of global biodiversity…

The researchers behind the new report, published last week in the journal Nature Sustainability, say that unless the world’s systems of food production undergo massive transformation, nature is poised to lose an estimated 1.3 million square miles to agriculture by mid-century. The paper estimates that the conversion of these ecosystems to cropland will further shrink the habitats of more than 17,000 species of land vertebrates, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News.

Some 1,280 of these species will lose a quarter or more of their remaining habitat and 350 are projected to lose more than half of the areas they currently call home. Based on their analysis, the researchers expect the most significant losses of habitat to occur in sub-Saharan Africa as well as South and Southeast Asia, reports Karina Shah for New Scientist.

In a statement, David Williams, a conservation scientist at the University of Leeds and a lead author of the paper, explains that he and his co-authors estimated the expansion of agriculture over the next three decades by forecasting the demands of a global population that is growing in both size and affluence…

“Ultimately, we need to change what we eat and how it is produced if we’re going to save wildlife on a global scale,” says Williams in the statement. “We need to alter both our diets and food production methods”… For example, reduced meat consumption would reduce the need for land conversion in North America, but would have less of an impact in parts of the world where meat consumption is low. By contrast, the biggest benefits for sub-Saharan Africa’s ecosystems would likely come from increasing crop yields.

The researchers say improving crop yields, shifting towards more plant-based diets, cutting food waste or loss by half and importing more food to countries with the greatest numbers of species threatened by encroaching croplands could actually reduce the footprint of global agriculture by around 1.3 million square miles by 2050. SOURCE…

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