Global projections of future cropland expansion to 2050 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage

Amy Molotoks* (Corresponding Author), Elke Stehfest, Jonathan Doelman, Fabrizio Albanito, Nuala Fitton, Terence P. Dawson, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Cropland expansion threatens biodiversity by driving habitat loss and impacts carbon storage through loss of biomass and soil carbon (C). There is a growing concern that this land use change (LUC) will result in loss of ecosystem function and various ecosystem services essential for human health and wellbeing. This paper examines projections of future cropland expansion and the impact on biodiversity hotspots, endangered and critically endangered species in Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites and both soil and vegetation stocks C storage. We show that while cropland expansion is likely to lead to both biodiversity loss and ecosystem C loss, cropland expansion does not always threaten habitat, species and C storage to the same extent. If projected trends are realised, there are likely to be severe consequences for these resources, including substantial loss of habitats in biodiversity hotspots. As much as a tenth of some hotspots could be converted to cropland, 50% of endangered and critically endangered species losing part of their habitat in AZE sites and 13.7% of vegetation C storage and 4.6% of soil C stocks being lost in areas affected. Therefore, changes in policy to regulate projected cropland expansion, and increased measures to protect natural resources, are highly likely to be required to prevent these biodiversity and C losses in the future
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5895-5908
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number12
Early online date24 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

This work contributes to the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI DEVIL project (NE/M021327/1) and the NERC funded Soils-R-GGREAT project (NE/P019455/1), and AM is supported by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) EastBio Studentship ( (grant number BB/M010996/1). Conservation International, The Alliance for Zero Extinction and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) are acknowledged for provision of data.


  • biodiversity
  • carbon storage
  • land use change
  • cropland expansion
  • ecosystem services


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