Global patterns of agricultural land-use intensity and vertebrate diversity


Aim Land-use change is the single biggest cause of biodiversity loss. With a rising demand for resources, understanding how and where agriculture threatens biodiversity is of increasing importance. Agricultural expansion has received much attention, but where high agricultural land-use intensity (LUI) threatens biodiversity remains unclear. We address this knowledge gap with two main research questions: (1) Where do global patterns of LUI coincide with the spatial distribution of biodiversity? (2) Where are regions of potential conflict between different aspects of high LUI and high biodiversity?

Location Global.

Methods We overlaid thirteen LUI metrics with endemism richness, a range size-weighted species richness indicator, for mammals, birds and amphibians. We then used local indicators of spatial association to delineate statistically significant (P < 0.05) areas of high and low LUI associated with biodiversity.

Results Patterns of LUI are heterogeneously distributed in areas of high endemism richness, thus discouraging the use of a single metric to represent LUI. Many regions where high LUI and high endemism richness coincide, for example in South America, China and Eastern Africa, are not within currently recognized biodiversity hotspots. Regions of currently low LUI and high endemism richness, found in many parts of Mesoamerica, Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia, may be at risk as intensification accelerates.

Main conclusions We provide a global view of the geographic patterns of LUI and its concordance with endemism richness, shedding light on regions where highly intensive agriculture and unique biodiversity coincide. Past assessments of land-use impacts on biodiversity have either disregarded LUI or included a single metric to measure it. This study demonstrates that such omission can substantially underestimate biodiversity threat. A wider spectrum of relevant LUI metrics needs to be considered when balancing agricultural production and biodiversity.

Diversity and Distributions, 21(11) 1308-1318
Laura Kehoe
PhD & Postdoctoral Researcher
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab
Christian Levers
PhD student