In a paper published in Nature on June 1st, Commissioner David Tilman and EAT-Lancet supporting author Michael Clark (et al.), say changing the way we eat could save thousands of species from extinction.
Today, the authors say, 25% of all mammal species and 13% of birds are threatened, as are 21 000 other species of plants and animals worldwide. Arguing that this looming crisis of biodiversity loss, sometimes referred to as the sixth extinction, can be stopped, Tilman and his fellow researchers suggest three broad solutions to the problem: Closing agricultural yield gaps, changing diets and reorienting agricultural trade to promote conservation.
The three solutions all target agriculture and food production. Closing the yield gap means growing more food on farmland that’s already in operation; changing diets means steering consumers towards plant-based foods, again because these require much less land than meat and dairy; and changing trade to promote conservation means growing things in the places where you get the highest yield per area.
So why single out agriculture? Well, it turns out that agriculture is a huge part of the problem. The paper’s authors estimate that 80% of all threatened terrestrial bird and mammal species are under pressure from agriculture, which is leading to the loss and fragmentation of habitats when farmland expands into previously wild areas.
The figure below, taken from their report, shows the estimated reduction in extinction risk from implementing the three proposed solutions in South Asia, India and China (SAIC), Sub-Saharan Africa and Tropical South America. Clearly, there is a powerful potential interplay between improving yields, transforming food trade and changing diets, and the future of many species will depend on a transformed food system that can deliver on all these goals.
Of course, food production is not the only threat to watch out for. The paper also mentions hunting, logging, development and invasive species to name a few, but, to protect biodiversity, it is imperative that food leads the way.
Read the whole paper here:
Future threats to biodiversity and pathways to their prevention
David Tilman, Michael Clark, David R. Williams, Kaitlin Kimmel, Stephen Polasky & Craig Packer
Nature 546, 73–81 (01 June 2017), doi:10.1038/nature22900