A comprehensive analysis of endangered species threat records and of international trade patterns shows how consumers in developed countries drive biodiversity threats in developing countries. The study, published in Nature this week, reveals that, excluding invasive species, 30% of global species threats are due to international trade.
Buying commodities can have ecological consequences, and in today’s increasingly globalized economy international trade chains can accelerate habitat degradation in locations far removed from the place of consumption. Barney Foran and colleagues linked 25,000 species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List to over 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries, evaluating the biodiversity impacts of over 5 billion supply chains.
They then associated threatened species with implicated commodities ― the spider monkey is threatened by habitat loss linked to coffee and cocoa plantations in Mexico and Central America, for example. Developed countries tend to be net importers of implicated commodities, such as coffee, tea and sugar, creating a ‘biodiversity footprint’ that is larger abroad than at home. The USA, European Union and Japan are the main final destinations of biodiversity-implicated commodities, the study shows.
The results highlight the importance of studying biodiversity loss from a global perspective, taking into account not just the local producers who directly degrade and destroy habitat but also the consumers who benefit from the degradation.