Goeldi's monkey in tree

Researchers warn of wildlife at risk due to expansion of agriculture

Nature article: Animals in Amazon, Sub-Saharan Africa face pressures from increased growing of crops
July 26, 2017

An international team of scientists, including a Clark University geographer, has pinpointed the world regions most vulnerable to species loss due to intensified agricultural development. Their findings were reported in a recent Nature Ecology and Evolution article titled “Biodiversity at Risk Under Future Cropland Expansion and Intensification.”

Lyndon Estes
Lyndon Estes

The study's findings are significant because “agriculture is the leading driver of biodiversity loss,” yet “few studies have assessed potential impacts of future agricultural land-use change on biodiversity, with most research focusing on the impacts of climate change,” the authors explain.

“This Nature paper presented the largest and most refined picture we currently have on the effects of land-use on wildlife, and it opened the door to our current publication on the potential future impacts of agricultural development on biodiversity,” explains Laura Kehoe, lead author on the paper with Lyndon Estes, who begins as an assistant professor in Clark’s Geography Department this fall.

Four other scientists co-authored the paper. Kehoe is a doctoral researcher in the University of Humboldt of Berlin’s Geography Department; Estes currently is serving as a research scientist at Clark until he joins the faculty in late August.

In a blog post, Kehoe details the projected impact of agricultural development. “We found up to one third of species richness and abundance could be potentially lost due to expansion and intensification across the Amazon and Afrotropics,” she says.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly susceptible due to demographic and agricultural growth, although the Peruvian Amazon could be hit the hardest, with up to 317 species potentially lost due to agricultural expansion and intensification, according to the researchers’ calculations.

Since 2015, Estes has collaborated with Kehoe and Tobias Kuemmerle, also a co-author on the paper and professor and head of Humboldt’s Conservation Biogeography Lab.

“We’ve worked on projects seeking to quantify the environmental — particularly the biodiversity — impacts of agricultural development,” Estes says. “For this particular paper, I was involved in discussions regarding the design and identification of methods and datasets that would allow the biodiversity impacts of agriculture to be more directly quantified. I also provided statistical advice.”

Estes has served as a research scientist with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He has a Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Cape Town and a B.A. in English from Georgetown University. Prior to his academic career, he spent nearly nine years working in protected area management and environmental consulting in southern Africa.

Above: The Southwest Amazon moist forests in Peru especially face risks due to expanded agricultural development, the scientists say, with the potential loss of more than 300 species of terrestrial vertebrates, such as this Goeldi's monkey (Callimico goeldii), which is on the Red List of Threatened Species.