Biodiversity loss linked to economic inequality worldwide

May 16, 2007

An interdisciplinary team of McGill researchers has uncovered a connection between growing economic inequality and an increase in the number of plant and animal species that are threatened with extinction.

"Our study suggests that if we can learn to share economic resources more fairly with fellow members of our own species, it may help us to share ecological resources more fairly with other species," said Dr. Greg Mikkelson, assistant professor in the McGill School of Environment and Department of Philosophy. The study appears in the May 16 issue of PLoS ONE, the online, peer-reviewed, open-access journal of the Public Library of Science.

Mikkelson and his colleagues related indicators of income inequality and biodiversity loss on two different scales: among 45 countries worldwide and among 45 states within the United States. They controlled for differences such as area and climate, human population size, and per capita consumption. The same general trend is evident in both scales: societies with more unequal distributions of income experience greater losses of biodiversity.

"While there is often a trade-off between economic growth and environmental quality," says Mikkelson, "this study suggests that there is a synergy between a different kind of economic development – namely, toward a more equitable distribution of wealth and the conservation of biological diversity." For example, if the US were to achieve levels of income equality comparable to those of Sweden, the pattern reported in their paper implies that 44% fewer plant and vertebrate species in the US would be in danger of extinction.

"In the past, people thought that human population size was the main driver of biodiversity loss, then people showed that the size of the economy provided a better explanation," said co-author Dr. Garry Peterson, an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Department of Geography, and a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in social-ecological modeling. "This study shows that the structure of the economy is also important."

While previous research has linked income inequality and public health, the link between socioeconomic factors and the decline of environmental health and biodiversity has not been as well studied.

"With biodiversity loss, if we don't link the science to the social causes, we will never solve the problem," says co-author Dr. Andrew Gonzalez, an associate professor in the Department of Biology and School of Environment, and a Canada Research Chair in biodiversity. Because the connection between economic inequality and threatened species is strong at both country and state levels of analysis, the researchers are hopeful that the underlying mechanisms can be identified.

"We already understand the impact run-away logging has on forests," says Gonzalez. "When loggers in Mexico cut down trees to make way for cattle ranches, the impact on forests is partly driven by Mexico's highly uneven distribution of wealth."

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Warning coloration paved the way for louder, more complex calls in certain species of poisonous frogs

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UN biodiversity meet commits to double funding

Oct 17, 2014

A UN conference on preserving the earth's dwindling resources wrapped up Friday with governments making a firm commitment to double biodiversity aid to developing countries by 2015.

Stowaway species threaten biodiversity

Oct 03, 2014

In the early 1980s, the North American comb jellyfish quit its Atlantic home, hid away in the belly of a cargo ship and headed for the Black Sea.

Rating the planet's oceans

Sep 30, 2014

The most comprehensive assessment conducted by the Ocean Health Index rates the Earth's oceans at 67 out of 100 in overall health. In addition, for the first time, the report assessed the Antarctic and the ...

Recommended for you

Cat dentals fill you with dread?

Oct 24, 2014

A survey published this year found that over 50% of final year veterinary students in the UK do not feel confident either in discussing orodental problems with clients or in performing a detailed examination of the oral cavity ...

User comments : 0