29 May 2013 | By Franz Essl

The effects of environmental pressures on biological extinctions may not be evident for decades after the events, a study finds. Stefan Dullinger, Franz Essl (C·I·B Research Associate), Petr Pyšek (C·I·B Research Associate) and colleagues compared the current number of threatened species in 22 European countries, with contemporary and historic levels of human-caused environmental pressures on biodiversity. They used three socio-economic measures as proxies for these environmental pressures: human population density, per capita gross domestic product, and a measure of land use intensity. Their analysis showed that socio-economic data from 1900 and 1950 better explained current proportions of threatened species of mammals, reptiles, bryophytes, vascular plants, dragonflies and grasshoppers than contemporary data. The finding held even when the researchers controlled for countries’ investments in environmental management and protection. The findings suggest that the negative impact of current human activities on biodiversity will not become fully realized for several decades, suggesting that mitigating the risk of species extinction may be even more difficult than expected, the researchers argue.

Onosma helvetica ssp. austriaca
Onosma helvetica ssp. austriaca is an Austrian endemic restricted to dry rocky grasslands in the Wachau region near Vienna. Formerly, it‘s habitats were extensively grazed, but after World War II this extensive land use has been abandoned. Since then, most of its former habitats have been lost due to succession, and currently only three populations are left. Thus, ongoing losses of populations have been triggered by land use changes occurring more than 60 years ago.
© F. Essl

Read the paper Dullinger, S., Essl, F., Rabitsch, W., Erb, K., Gingrich, S., Haberl, H., Hülber, K, Jarošík, W., Krausmann, F., Kühn, I., Pergl, P., Pyšek, P. and Hulme, P.E. 2013. Europe’s other debt crisis caused by the long legacy of future extinctions. Proc Natl Acad of Sci USA 10(1): 7342-7347.

For more information, contact Franz Essl at franz.essl@umweltbundesamt.at.