Europe's other debt crisis caused by the long legacy of future extinctions
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Rapid economic development in the past century has translated into severe pressures on species survival as a result of increasing land-use change, environmental pollution, and the spread of invasive alien species. However, though the impact of these pressures on biodiversity is substantial, it could be seriously underestimated if population declines of plants and animals lag behind contemporary environmental degradation. Here, we test for such a delay in impact by relating numbers of threatened species appearing on national red lists to historical and contemporary levels of socioeconomic pressures. Across 22 European countries, the proportions of vascular plants, bryophytes, mammals, reptiles, dragonflies, and grasshoppers facing medium-to-high extinction risks are more closely matched to indicators of socioeconomic pressures (i.e., human population density, per capita gross domestic product, and a measure of land use intensity) from the early or mid-, rather than the late, 20th century. We conclude that, irrespective of recent conservation actions, large scale risks to biodiversity lag considerably behind contemporary levels of socioeconomic pressures. The negative impact of human activities on current biodiversity will not become fully realized until several decades into the future. Mitigating extinction risks might be an even greater challenge if temporal delays mean many threatened species might already be destined toward extinction.
- RESEARCH: CIB Associates