Pasture intensification is insufficient to relieve pressure on conservation priority areas in open agricultural markets


Agricultural expansion is a leading driver of biodiversity loss across the world, but little is known on how future land-use change may encroach on remaining natural vegetation. This uncertainty is, in part, due to unknown levels of future agricultural intensification and international trade. Using an economic land-use model, we assessed potential future losses of natural vegetation with a focus on how these may threaten biodiversity hotspots and intact forest landscapes. We analysed agricultural expansion under proactive and reactive biodiversity protection scenarios, and for different rates of pasture intensification. We found growing food demand to lead to a significant expansion of cropland at the expense of pastures and natural vegetation. In our reference scenario, global cropland area increased by more than 400 Mha between 2015 and 2050, mostly in Africa and Latin America. Grazing intensification was a main determinant of future land-use change. In Africa, higher rates of pasture intensification resulted in smaller losses of natural vegetation, and reduced pressure on biodiversity hotspots and intact forest landscapes. Investments into raising pasture productivity in conjunction with proactive land-use planning appear essential in Africa to reduce further losses of areas with high conservation value. In Latin America, in contrast, higher pasture productivity resulted in increased livestock exports, highlighting that unchecked trade can reduce the land savings of pasture intensification. Reactive protection of sensitive areas significantly reduced the conversion of natural ecosystems in Latin America. We conclude that protection strategies need to adapt to region-specific trade positions. In regions with a high involvement in international trade, area-based conservation measures should be preferred over strategies aimed at increasing pasture productivity, which by themselves might not be sufficient to protect biodiversity effectively.

Global Change Biology, 24(7) 3199-3213
Laura Kehoe
PhD & Postdoctoral Researcher
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab