Animals could lose a quarter of their habitats by the end of the century because of how humans are using the world

Animals could lose a quarter of their habitats by the end of the century because of how humans are using the world
Representative image of a white tigerBCCL
  • Climate change and human use of land could deplete a quarter of animal habitats around the world by 2100.
  • Animals that live in tropical areas will bear the heaviest impact of rising temperature and change in rainfall patterns.
  • Some habitats could end up shifting entirely because of how humans have been exploiting the planet’s natural resources since the 1700s.
Animals — mammals, birds and amphibians alike — could lose nearly a quarter of their habitats by 2100. The end-of-days estimate by the University of Cambridge is an assessment of how climate change and changes in land use will pan out over the next 80 years.

Habitats to shrink drastically
Metric1700-20202020-2100
Overall % loss of habitat18%23%
% of species that have lost more than half of their habitat range16%10%
Source: University of Cambridge

The new study published in Nature Communications analysed nearly species and used it to predict the possible outcomes under 16 different climate and socio-economic scenarios.

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Tropical animals have it the worst
The most affected species so far live in the tropics. And, the use of land in that area is only going to intensify in the coming years.

The study forecasts that as humans move their activities deeper into the tropics, the effect on species ranges will also become disproportionately larger. The reasons are two-fold.

First of all, the sheer diversity of species within the region implies that multiple animals will be affected simultaneously. The more worrying parameter is the natural habitats of these species is limited to begin with.

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"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," explained Robert Beyer, the lead author of the study.

Climate change will lead to severe change in habitats
As a result of climate change, not only will the habitat cover dwindle, but overall habitats may shift altogether. The study forecasts that rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns have the potential to alter habitats significantly.

The Amazon rainforest in South America, for example, is expected to transform from a canopy rainforest to a savannah-like mix of woodland and open grassland in the next 100 years.

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"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.

While the study quantifies the drastic consequences for species' ranges if global land use and climate change are left unchecked — it also demonstrates the potential of timely and concerted policy action for halting, or even reversing, the effects of climate change.

"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," said Andrea Manica, who is also a lead author of the study.

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