100 Bird Species Face Extinction Thanks to Global Food Trade

A new study finds that over 100 bird species are being pushed toward extinction because of land clearing, palm oil cultivation and habitat loss that is a direct result of our farming and food trade practices, scientists warn.

The research, which is published this month in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution“, was not looking specifically at bird populations but rather how our land use might be impacting biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Scientists use bird numbers as a means of assessing biodiversity, because bird populations are found all over the globe and, for the most part, are relatively easy to monitor. Increases or decreases in bird populations are often a good measure for the health of a particular environment. That’s why the researchers’ findings here are instructive.

The international team of scientists found that between 2001 and 2011 our land use has pushed 121 bird species toward extinction. Several bird species are already functionally extinct in the wild, with the spix’s macaw among the most widely-known to have suffered the effects of land clearing in its native Brazil. Other data from 2018 corroborates this and reveals that about eight species in total have gone extinct this past decade.

In total, the researchers in this latest study say they observed a three to seven percent increase in the number of bird species being lost.

These numbers might sound relatively low, given the number of species that are currently under threat. However, researchers in this latest study point out that the comparative increase is alarming. For perspective, the researchers note that we have lost 140 birds over the past 400 years. When seen in this light, the new 10-year loss is arresting.

The study also raises a number of other key underlying problems. The researchers note that in 2011, consumption in western regions fueled a third of biodiversity impacts in Central and Southern America and just over a quarter of Africa’s biodiversity impacts. There has been a great deal of justifiable dialog over Western colonization in Africa and other regions and, politically, this is in retreat. However, this study is a reminder that, in many ways, the West still profits from lands it formerly colonized by paying substandard prices for rich resources—whether in raw materials or through land use itself.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found that cattle farming is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss. That’s because it takes large areas of land on which very little else can be cultivated. This is not the only factor though. Oil seed production in the form of soy and palm oil also appear to be having a major impact on biodiversity, too.

Communicating these impacts to the public may be one of the ways in which we finally gather momentum to challenge and rethink large-scale, outsourced farming. This means letting consumers know the biodiversity cost of products we buy.

Other notable points in the study include that, while it is undeniable that land use is becoming more efficient, this isn’t actually translating into reduced environmental damage. In fact, environmental damage is increasing. This tells us that we can’t use technological innovation to solve this problem, because the issue is the land-clearing itself.

This study doesn’t tell us that much we didn’t really already know, but it is still valuable. There is now plenty of data illustrating that we are facing a sixth mass extinction event and that the losses could be substantial. There is a growing body of evidence telling us that current industrial farming methods are unsustainable. This latest study makes it clear: if we continue to use land like we have been doing, the rate of extinctions will continue to spiral.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

48 comments

Michael F
Michael F7 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Celine Russo
Celine R8 days ago

A lot of humanity's problems seem to stem for gluttony and overpopulation...

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara8 days ago

th

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara8 days ago

Ask yourself why there isn't a local alternative and go find one.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara8 days ago

Do not buy products with palm fat in them,. Make sure you read every label. Eat less beef.

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Virgene L
Virgene L9 days ago

Frightening! The real cause of this is overpopulation and consumption. We need to be educating populations and helping to provide contraception. Governments and corporations must take action to stop this exploitation. Our Earth is home to many others, not just us.

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Peggy B
Peggy B9 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W10 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W10 days ago

TYFS

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Debra Tate
Debra Tate10 days ago

So sad.

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