Excessive and growing human numbers are a leading cause of decreasing biodiversity in many parts of the world. In researching a paper on this topic last year, we became aware of the large amount of good scientific work recently published on it. In an effort to spur more such work, we are publishing an annotated bibliography describing this new literature and helping readers access it more easily.
by The Overpopulation Project
Our new bibliography of recent scientific work on population and biodiversity aims for comprehensive coverage of peer-reviewed scientific papers published during the past dozen years that deal substantively with the connection between human numbers and biodiversity loss and preservation. Its 160 entries also include a few books, and select publications from the previous decade which treat this topic. Entries include publication data, a hot link to the source, and a one-sentence description.
There’s a lot of good new work in this area! Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, biologists seem more willing to speak plainly about the roles population growth and population density play in biodiversity loss. Pleas for more work on the fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss by Reed Noss and other conservation biologists appear to have been heeded.
Our entries document work on population and biodiversity in many parts of the world, from China:
- Krishnadas et al., Parks protect forest cover in a tropical biodiversity hotspot, but high human population densities can limit success,
- Mengistu and Ayano, The Impact of Population Growth on Natural Resources and Farmers’ Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change in Low-Income Countries,
from North America:
- Radeloff et al., Housing growth in and near United States protected areas limits their conservation value
to South America:
- López-Carr and Burgdorfer, Deforestation drivers: population, migration, and tropical land use.
These articles cover various taxa and groups, from herbivores:
- Berger et al., Disassembled food webs and messy projections: modern ungulate communities in the face of unabating human population growth
- Boitani and Linnell, Bringing large mammals back: large carnivores in Europe,
and from fish:
- Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuys, Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers.
There are also many valuable global overviews, such as:
- Seto, A meta-analysis of global urban land expansion,
- D’Odorico et al., The global food-energy-water nexus, and
- Crist et al., The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ Global Assessment (2019) identified increasing agricultural demands as a leading cause of terrestrial habitat loss and degradation. We found numerous recent publications affirming the key role population growth plays in driving the agricultural conversion of natural habitats, including:
- Laurance et al., Agricultural expansion and its impacts on tropical nature,
- Ngwira and Watanabe, An analysis of the causes of deforestation in Malawi: a case of Mwazisi, and
- Raven and Wagner, Agricultural intensification and climate change are rapidly decreasing insect biodiversity.
This scientific consensus is important to remember in the face of ideologically motivated claims that agricultural demands can be decreased regardless of the number of people we are trying to feed.
In addition to the main listings, our new bibliography includes two addenda: a list of select publications on the connection between population and climate change, and a select list of work on the ethics of biodiversity loss. The recent literature on both topics is large and these addenda only provide an introduction. Nevertheless, we included them as dealing with important adjacent topics that we believe will be of interest.
We are glad to see this resurgence of interest in population among conservation biologists and conservationists more generally. As Crist, Ripple, Ehrlich, Rees and Wolf wrote in last year’s Scientists’ warning on population, “humanity must commit to transformative change on all levels in order to address the climate emergency and biodiversity collapse. In particular, stabilizing and ultimately reducing the human population size is necessary to ensure the long-term wellbeing of our species and other life on Earth.”
Readers curious about the main lessons we take from this literature are referred to our publication in Biological Conservation, “Overpopulation is a major cause of biodiversity loss and smaller human populations are necessary to preserve what is left.” We appreciate corrections of existing entries and suggestions for additional ones to this new bibliography. We also welcome any information about ongoing work in this area, which we are happy to share with our readers!
Read the full bibliography here.