Andrew Balmford's research while affiliated with University of Cambridge and other places

Publications (372)

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There is little robust, quantitative information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the extinction crisis. Focusing on Madagascar, one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots, we explore whether the cessation of on-site protected-area management activities due to the pandemic were associated with increased burning inside protec...
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It has been argued that intensive livestock farming increases the risk of pandemics of zoonotic origin because of long-distance livestock movements, high livestock densities, poor animal health and welfare, low disease resistance and low genetic diversity. However, data on many of these factors are limited, and analyses to date typically ignore how...
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Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) projects aim to contribute to climate change mitigation by protecting and enhancing carbon stocks in tropical forests, but there are no systematic global evaluations of their impact. Using a new data set for tropical humid forests, we used a standardised evaluation approach to qua...
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One of the biggest stumbling blocks for global environmental agreements is how higher-income and lower-income countries share the costs of implementing them. This problem has become particularly acute as biodiversity and climate ambitions have increased across recent COPs (Conferences of Parties). Here, we estimate the likely distribution of costs...
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Forest restoration is being scaled-up globally to deliver critical ecosystem services and biodiversity benefits, yet we lack rigorous comparison of co-benefit delivery across different restoration approaches. In a global synthesis, we use 25,950 matched data pairs from 264 studies in 53 countries to assess how delivery of climate, soil, water, and...
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Area-based conservation measures, including protected areas (PA) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM), play an important role in biodiversity conservation. In the Brazilian Amazon, even though Conservation Units and Indigenous Lands have been shown to reduce deforestation, few studies have addressed Quilombola Territories, an...
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Combatting climate and ecological change is often framed as the responsibility of either individuals or national governments. Organizations, which are intermediate in size and influence, have enormous potential to deliver effective policies. As an illustration, we consider approaches taken by UK organizations to reduce meat consumption.
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Background: Studying dietary trends can help monitor progress towards healthier and more sustainable diets but longitudinal data are often confounded by lack of standardized methods. Two main data sources are used for longitudinal analysis of diets: food balance sheets on food supply (FBS) and household budget surveys on food purchased (HBS). Metho...
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The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits commercial trans-national trade in pangolin specimens. However, African pangolins are continually trafficked to Asia for traditional medicine, with Nigeria considered a key hub. Using reported Nigeria-linked pangolin seizure data and interviews wit...
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The Anthropocene is characterized by unparalleled human impact on other species, potentially ushering in the sixth mass extinction. Yet mitigation efforts remain hampered by limited information on the spatial patterns and intensity of the threats driving global biodiversity loss. Here we use expert-derived information from the International Union f...
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The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration offers immense potential to return hundreds of millions of hectares of degraded tropical landscapes to functioning ecosystems. Well-designed restoration can tackle multiple Sustainable Development Goals, driving synergistic benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem services, agricultural and timber production, and...
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How to feed, house, clothe and power 11 billion of us without eliminating very many species and wrecking Earth's climate is perhaps this century's greatest challenge. We must obviously strive to curb growth in resource-intensive demand, but we also need to identify production systems that meet people's needs at least overall cost to nature. The lan...
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Tropical forest restoration stands to deliver important conservation gains in lowland Southeast Asia, which has suffered some of the world's highest rates of forest degradation and loss. This promise, however, may be undermined by defaunation driven by ubiquitous wildlife trapping in the region, particularly for forest birds that are part of the mu...
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Forest loss and degradation are the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Rising global wood demand threatens further damage to remaining native forests. Contrasting solutions across a continuum of options have been proposed, yet which of these offers most promise remains unresolved. Expansion of high-yielding tree plantations could free up f...
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Conservation is predominantly an exercise in trying to change human behaviour – whether that of consumers whose choices drive unsustainable resource use, of land managers clearing natural habitats, or of policymakers failing to deliver on environmental commitments. Yet conservation research and practice have made only limited use of recent advances...
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Nature provides many benefits for people, yet there are few data on how changes at individual sites impact the net value of ecosystem service provision. A 2002 review found only five analyses comparing the net economic benefits of conserving nature versus pursuing an alternative, more intensive human use. Here we revisit this crucial comparison, sy...
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During the Quaternary, large climate oscillations impacted the distribution and demography of species globally. Two approaches have played a major role in reconstructing changes through time: Bayesian Skyline Plots (BSP), which reconstruct population fluctuations based on genetic data, and Species Distribution Models, which allow us to back‐cast th...
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Human activities are degrading ecosystems worldwide, posing existential threats for biodiversity and humankind. Slowing and reversing this degradation will require profound and widespread changes to human behaviour. Behavioural scientists are therefore well placed to contribute intellectual leadership in this area. This Perspective aims to stimulat...
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Reducing meat and fish consumption in wealthier countries would help mitigate climate change, raising the question of the most effective ways to achieve this. Price influences the food people buy, but to our knowledge no published field study has assessed the impact on sales of experimentally altering the price of meat and vegetarian meal options....
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Work on the post‐2020 global biodiversity framework is now well advanced and will outline a vision, goals, and targets for the next decade of biodiversity conservation and beyond. For the effectiveness of Protected areas and Other Effective area‐based Conservation Measures, an indicator has been proposed for “areas meeting their documented ecologic...
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In 2010, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020. As international attention turns to the development of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, discussions are focusing on the way in which other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) should be reflected in the Framework. To info...
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Tropical forest degradation is widely recognised as a driver of biodiversity loss and a major source of carbon emissions. However, in contrast to deforestation, the more gradual changes from degradation are challenging to detect, quantify, and monitor. Here we present a field protocol for rapid, area-standardised quantifications of forest condition...
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1. Understanding how to allocate land for the sustainable delivery of multiple, competing objectives is a major societal challenge. The land sharing-sparing framework presents a heuristic for understanding the trade-off between food production and biodiversity conservation by comparing region-wide land-use scenarios which are equivalent in terms of...
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Extensive ecosystem restoration is increasingly seen as being central to conserving biodiversity1 and stabilizing the climate of the Earth2. Although ambitious national and global targets have been set, global priority areas that account for spatial variation in benefits and costs have yet to be identified. Here we develop and apply a multicriteria...
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Altering the order in which meals are presented at cafeteria counters has been proposed as a way of lowering meat consumption, but remains largely untested. To address this, we undertook two experimental studies involving 105,143 meal selections in the cafeterias of a British university. Placing vegetarian options first on the counter consistently...
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Roads and their traffic can affect wildlife over large areas and, in regions with dense road networks, may influence a high proportion of the ecological landscape. We assess the abundance of 75 bird species in relation to roads across Great Britain. Of these, 77% vary significantly in abundance with increasing road exposure, just over half negative...
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As environmental scientists working in countries whose COVID-linked deaths already exceed their military casualties from all campaigns since 1945, we believe there are significant messages from the handling of this horrific disease for efforts addressing the enormous challenges posed by the ongoing extinction and climate emergencies.
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E cosystem restoration can provide multiple benefits to people and help to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals 1-3 , including climate change mitigation 4 and nature conservation 5. Thus, 47 countries have collectively committed to have 150 and 350 million hectares of degraded lands under restoration by 2020 and 2030, respectively, and h...
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1. Further progress in reducing biodiversity loss relies on the improved quantification of the connections between drivers of habitat loss and subsequent biodiversity impacts. To this end, biodiversity impact metrics should be able to report linked trends in specific human activities and changes in biodiversity state, accounting for both the ecolog...
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The global road network, currently over 45 million lane‐km in length, is expected to reach 70 million lane‐km by 2050, while the number of vehicles utilizing it is expected to double. Roads have been shown to affect a range of wildlife, including birds, but most studies have been relatively small scale. We use data from across Great Britain to anal...
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Global biodiversity losses continue despite tremendous growth in the volume of conservation science and many local successes. Research that can achieve conservation science's aims—arresting declines in biodiversity and preventing extinctions—is therefore of ever greater importance. Here, we ask whether conservation science, as currently performed,...
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Work has begun in earnest to formulate a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework which will outline the vision and targets for the next decade of biodiversity conservation and beyond. However, the performance of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity suggests that even a meaningful target can fail to deliver if not accompanied by fit-for-pur...
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Conservation science is a crisis-oriented discipline focused on reducing human impacts on nature. To explore how the field has changed over the past two decades, we analyzed 3245 applications for oral presentations submitted to the Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) in Cambridge, UK. SCCS has been running every year since 2000, aims...
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The land sharing-sparing framework aims to quantify the trade-off between food production and biodiversity conservation, but it has been criticized for offering, for reasons of simplicity, an unrealistically limited set of different land uses. Here, we develop the framework to evaluate a much larger suite of land-use strategies in which the areas a...
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Brazil is a megadiversity country with more tropical forest than any other, and is a leading agricultural producer. The technical potential to reconcile these roles by concentrating agriculture on existing farmland and sparing land for nature is well-established, but the spatial overlap of this potential with conservation priorities and institution...
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Edible insects are found in agricultural systems worldwide, and are an important source of food and income. However, many edible insects are also pests of important food crops, which raises the question of how far their presence might be costly to farmers in terms of reduced crop yields. In this study we aimed to understand the impact of defoliatio...
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Pete Smith and Andrew Balmford argue that methane from livestock is an important contributor to climate change and that it should not be creatively discounted.
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During the Quaternary, large climate oscillations had profound impacts on the distribution, demography and diversity of species globally. Birds offer a special opportunity for studying these impacts because surveys of geographical distributions, publicly-available genetic sequence data, and the existence of species with adaptations to life in struc...
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Edible insects have been advocated as a means to combat food insecurity, which is prevalent in West Africa. In this study we look at the contribution of the shea caterpillar Cirina butyrospermi, colloquially known as ‘chitoumou’, to the food security of smallholder households in rural southwestern Burkina Faso. We used a mixed methods approach to u...
Preprint
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Conservation science is a crisis-oriented discipline focused on delivering robust answers to reducing human impacts on nature. To explore how the field might have changed during the past two decades, we analyzed 3,245 applications for oral presentations submitted to the Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) in Cambridge, UK. SCCS has be...
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Consumption of globally traded agricultural commodities like soy and palm oil is one of the primary causes of deforestation and biodiversity loss in some of the world’s most species-rich ecosystems. However, the complexity of global supply chains has confounded efforts to reduce impacts. Companies and governments with sustainability commitments str...
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One-sixth of the global terrestrial surface now falls within protected areas (PAs), making it essential to understand how far they mitigate the increasing pressures on nature which characterize the Anthropocene. In by far the largest analysis of this question to date and not restricted to forested PAs, we compiled data from 12,315 PAs across 152 co...
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Road ecology, the study of the impacts of roads and their traffic on wildlife, including birds, is a rapidly growing field, with research showing effects on local avian population densities up to several kilometres from a road. However, in most studies, the effects of roads on the detectability of birds by surveyors are not accounted for. This coul...
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Shifting people in higher income countries toward more plant-based diets would protect the natural environment and improve population health. Research in other domains suggests altering the physical environments in which people make decisions (“nudging”) holds promise for achieving socially desirable behavior change. Here, we examine the impact of...
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Empirical evidence from four continents indicates that human food demand may be best reconciled with biodiversity conservation through sparing natural habitats by boosting agricultural yields. This runs counter to the conservation paradigm of wildlife-friendly farming, which is influential in Europe, where many species are dependent on low-yielding...
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Aichi Target 11 of the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity commits countries to the effective conservation of areas of importance for biodiversity, through protected areas and "other effective area-based conservation measures" (OECMs). However, the prevalence and characteristics of OECMs are poorly known, particularly in sites of importance for bio...
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en Elephant populations are in decline across the African continent, but recent aerial surveys show that populations in Uganda are increasing. However, threats such as poaching and habitat disturbance remain. Having a comprehensive knowledge of the ranging behaviour of Ugandan elephants is crucial to understanding where critical habitat for the spe...
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Brazil, home to one of the planet’s last great forests, is currently in trade negotiations with its second largest trading partner, the European Union (EU). We urge the EU to seize this critical opportunity to ensure that Brazil protects human rights and the environment. Brazil’s forests, wetlands, and savannas are crucial to a great diversity of I...
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A recent paper claiming evidence of global insect declines achieved huge media attention, including claims of “insectaggedon” and a “collapse of nature.” Here, we argue that while many insects are declining in many places around the world, the study has important limitations that should be highlighted. We emphasise the robust evidence of large and...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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The Biodiversity Intactness Index measures the average abundance of wild species relative to that in pre-modern times. Recently BII was mapped at a global scale by Newbold et al and consequently has gained traction in policy circles. However, we have some concerns about the accuracy of this map. For example, BII exceeds 90% in many areas that have...
Preprint
The Biodiversity Intactness Index measures the average abundance of wild species relative to that in pre-modern times. Recently BII was mapped at a global scale by Newbold et al and consequently has gained traction in policy circles. However, we have some concerns about the accuracy of this map. For example, BII exceeds 90% in many areas that have...