Proactive conservation to prevent habitat losses to agricultural expansion

David R. Williams, Michael Clark, Graeme M. Buchanan, G. Francesco Ficetola, Carlo Rondinini, David Tilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


The projected loss of millions of square kilometres of natural ecosystems to meet future demand for food, animal feed, fibre and bioenergy crops is likely to massively escalate threats to biodiversity. Reducing these threats requires a detailed knowledge of how and where they are likely to be most severe. We developed a geographically explicit model of future agricultural land clearance based on observed historical changes, and combined the outputs with species-specific habitat preferences for 19,859 species of terrestrial vertebrates. We project that 87.7% of these species will lose habitat to agricultural expansion by 2050, with 1,280 species projected to lose ≥25% of their habitat. Proactive policies targeting how, where, and what food is produced could reduce these threats, with a combination of approaches potentially preventing almost all these losses while contributing to healthier human diets. As international biodiversity targets are set to be updated in 2021, these results highlight the importance of proactive efforts to safeguard biodiversity by reducing demand for agricultural land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-322
Number of pages9
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was made possible through support from the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet Our Health (Livestock, Environment and People, LEAP) award number 205212/Z/16/Z.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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