When we think about good wildlife habitat, we generally picture lands undisturbed by human construction or agriculture. Given that humans use roughly half the planet’s land area for such purposes, Earth’s “good habitat” ain’t what it used to be.
But what effect, exactly, has the loss of habitat had on all the species not named Homo sapiens? That’s a big, and therefore difficult, question to answer precisely. Plenty of effort has gone into estimating the number of species we’ve driven to extinction—we’ll eventually become the Sixth Mass Extinction event if we keep up at our current clip—but that can obscure the local details that tell us how the ecosystems around us are functioning.
A huge group of researchers led by Tim Newbold of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Lawrence Hudson of London’s Natural History Museum have now focused in on those local details. The researchers compiled the results of 378 published ecology studies of over 11,000 sites around the world, including observations of almost 27,000 species—vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. The goal? To find ecological communities living on lands with varying human impact and see how they’re doing.