Visualizing the Biggest Threats to Earth’s Biodiversity
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Visualizing the Biggest Threats to Earth’s Biodiversity

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Earth's biodiversity loss

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The Biggest Threats to Earth’s Biodiversity

Biodiversity benefits humanity in many ways.

It helps make the global economy more resilient, it functions as an integral part of our culture and identity, and research has shown it’s even linked to our physical health.

However, despite its importance, Earth’s biodiversity has decreased significantly over the last few decades. In fact, between 1970 and 2016, the population of vertebrate species fell by 68% on average worldwide. What’s causing this global decline?

Today’s graphic uses data from WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 to illustrate the biggest threats to Earth’s biodiversity, and the impact each threat has had globally.

Measuring the Loss of Biodiversity

Before looking at biodiversity’s biggest threats, first thing’s first—how exactly has biodiversity changed over the years?

WWF uses the Living Planet Index (LPI) to measure biodiversity worldwide. Using data from over 4,000 different species, LPI tracks the abundance of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians across the globe.

Here’s a look at each region’s average decline between 1970 and 2016:

RankRegionAverage decline (between 1970 and 2016)
1Latin America & Caribbean94%
2Africa65%
3Asia Pacific45%
4North America33%
5Europe and Central Asia24%

Latin America & Caribbean has seen the biggest drop in biodiversity at 94%. This region’s drastic decline has been mainly driven by declining reptile, amphibian, and fish populations.

Despite varying rates of loss between regions, it’s clear that overall, biodiversity is on the decline. What main factors are driving this loss, and how do these threats differ from region to region?

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, Overall

While it’s challenging to create an exhaustive list, WWF has identified five major threats and shown each threats proportional impact, averaged across all regions:

ThreatProportion of threat (average across all regions)
Changes in land and sea use50%
Species overexploitation24%
Invasive species and disease13%
Pollution7%
Climate Change6%

Across the board, changes in land and sea use account for the largest portion of loss, making up 50% of recorded threats to biodiversity on average. This makes sense, considering that approximately one acre of the Earth’s rainforests is disappearing every two seconds.

Species overexploitation is the second biggest threat at 24% on average, while invasive species takes the third spot at 13%.

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, By Region

When looking at the regional breakdown, the order of threats in terms of biodiversity impact is relatively consistent across all regions—however, there are a few discrepancies:

In Latin America and Caribbean, climate change has been a bigger biodiversity threat than in other regions, and this is possibly linked to an increase in natural disasters. Between 2000 and 2013, the region experienced 613 extreme climate and hydro-meteorological events, from typhoons and hurricanes to flash floods and droughts.

Another notable variation from the mean is species over-exploitation in Africa, which makes up 35% of the region’s threats. This is higher than in other regions, which sit around 18-27%.

While the regional breakdowns differ slightly from place to place, one thing remains constant across the board—all species, no matter how small, play an important role in the maintenance of Earth’s ecosystems.

Will we continue to see a steady decline in Earth’s biodiversity, or will things level out in the near future?

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Agriculture

Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product.

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Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Cotton is present in our everyday life, from clothes to coffee strainers, and more recently in masks to control the spread of COVID-19.

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product. Currently, approximately half of all textiles require cotton fibers.

The above infographic lists the world’s top cotton producers, using data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Fancy Fabric

Originating from the Arabic word “quton,” meaning fancy fabric, cotton is a staple fiber made up of short fibers twisted together to form yarn.

The earliest production of cotton was around 5,000 B.C. in India, and today, around 25 million tons of cotton are produced each year.

Currently, five countries make up around 75% of global cotton production, with China being the world’s biggest producer. The country is responsible for over 23% of global production, with approximately 89 million cotton farmers and part-time workers. Cotton’s importance cannot be understated, as it is the primary input for the Chinese textile industry along with many other nations’ textile industries.

Top Cotton Producers2020/2021 (metric tons)2021/2022 (metric tons)
🇨🇳 China 6,445,0005,835,000
🇮🇳 India6,009,0005,334,000
🇺🇸 United States3,181,0003,815,000
🇧🇷 Brazil2,356,0002,504,000
🇦🇺 Australia610,0001,252,000
🇵🇰 Pakistan 980,0001,306,000
🇹🇷 Turkey631,000827,000
🌐 Other 4,059,0004,282,000
Total24,271,00025,155,000

The United States is the leading global exporter of cotton, exporting three-fourths of its crop with China as the top buyer.

Despite its importance for the global economy, cotton production faces significant sustainability challenges.

The Controversy Over Cotton

Cotton is one of the largest users of water among all agricultural commodities, and production often involves applying pesticides that threaten soil and water quality.

Along with this, production often involves forced and child labor. According to the European Commission, child labor in the cotton supply chain is most common in Africa and Asia, where it comes from small-holder farmers.

In 2020, U.S. apparel maker Patagonia stopped sourcing cotton from the autonomous territory of Xinjiang because of reports about forced labor and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, has also committed to eliminating Chinese cotton from its supply chain. Whether these changes in supply chains impact China’s cotton production and its practices, cotton remains essential to materials found across our daily lives.

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Agriculture

Mapped: Where Does Our Food Come From?

Did you know that over two-thirds of national crops originated from somewhere else? Over time the food that built national diets has evolved.

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The following content is sponsored by Brazil Potash

Where Does Our Food Come From?

Did you know that over two-thirds of national crops originated from somewhere else?

Humans have been selecting and growing crops for specific traits since the origins of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, shaping where and what crops are grown today.

Now our food system is completely global and many of the world’s top producers of staple crops are in countries far from their historical origin. For example, Brazil is now the largest soybean producer in the world, though the crop is originally from East Asia.

The above infographic by Brazil Potash shows the historical origins of crops before they were domesticated across the globe and the main producers of our staple crops today.

Producers Of Staple Crops Today

Staple crops are those that are the most routinely grown and consumed. These can vary between countries depending on availability.

In 2020, sugarcane, maize, wheat, and rice made up around 50% of global crop production.

But when the production and distribution of staple crops are threatened, the consequences can be felt globally. Let’s take a look at the countries that were the top three producers of some of our staple crops in 2020.

CropCountryPercentage of Global Production
Sugar Cane 🇧🇷Brazil 40.5%
Sugar Cane🇮🇳India 19.9%
Sugar Cane🇨🇳China 5.8%
Maize🇺🇸U.S. 30.9%
Maize🇨🇳China 22.4%
Maize🇧🇷Brazil 8.9%
Wheat 🇨🇳China 17.6%
Wheat🇮🇳India14.1%
Wheat🇷🇺Russia11.3%

As you can see from the data above, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane and one of the top three producers of maize.

The Future of Food Security

Global food security depends on staple crops and the countries that produce them. As the global population increases, so does the need to grow more crops.

The FAO estimates that by 2050 the world will need to increase its food output by around 70% in order to feed an ever-growing population.

Early food security solutions were transplanting crops from other regions to supplement diets. Now crop yields must increase as the next evolution in strengthening our food security. Fertilizers are a vital step in this process and are an essential ingredient in the future of global food security. They provide vital nutrients that increase crop production and strengthen nutrition security.

Brazil Potash extracts vital potash ore from the earth for it to return to the earth as fertilizer, fortifying food and helping to maintain continuous growth in the agricultural sector.

Click here to learn more about fertilizer and food production in Brazil.

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