International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations

Nature. 2012 Jun 6;486(7401):109-12. doi: 10.1038/nature11145.


Human activities are causing Earth's sixth major extinction event-an accelerating decline of the world's stocks of biological diversity at rates 100 to 1,000 times pre-human levels. Historically, low-impact intrusion into species habitats arose from local demands for food, fuel and living space. However, in today's increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption. Although adverse effects of economic prosperity and economic inequality have been confirmed, the importance of international trade as a driver of threats to species is poorly understood. Here we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. We linked 25,000 Animalia species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries and evaluated more than 5 billion supply chains in terms of their biodiversity impacts. Excluding invasive species, we found that 30% of global species threats are due to international trade. In many developed countries, the consumption of imported coffee, tea, sugar, textiles, fish and other manufactured items causes a biodiversity footprint that is larger abroad than at home. Our results emphasize the importance of examining biodiversity loss as a global systemic phenomenon, instead of looking at the degrading or polluting producers in isolation. We anticipate that our findings will facilitate better regulation, sustainable supply-chain certification and consumer product labelling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / economics
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Commerce / economics
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data*
  • Crops, Agricultural / economics
  • Crops, Agricultural / supply & distribution
  • Developed Countries / economics
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Developing Countries* / economics
  • Developing Countries* / statistics & numerical data
  • Endangered Species / statistics & numerical data*
  • Fisheries / statistics & numerical data
  • Forestry / economics
  • Forestry / statistics & numerical data
  • Industry / economics
  • Industry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internationality*