Biological Conservation 115 (2003) 161–164
Forecasting global biodiversity threats associated with human
Jeﬀrey K. McKeea,b,*, Paul W. Sciullia,b, C. David Foocea, Thomas A. Waitea,b
Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University, Lord Hall, 124 W. 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210-1364, USA
Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA
Received 1 October 2002; received in revised form 25 January 2003; accepted 11 February 2003
The size and growth of the human population are often cited as key factors in threats to Earth’s biodiversity, yet the extent of
their contribution to the endangerment and extinction of other species has remained unclear. Moreover, it could be valuable to
know what additional threats may arise from continued human population growth. Here we quantify a model of the relationship
between human population density and the number of threatened mammal and bird species by nation. Our multiple regression
analysis revealed that two predictor variables, human population density and species richness (of birds and mammals), account for
88% of the variability in log-transformed densities of threatened species across 114 continental nations. Using the regression model
with projected population sizes of each nation, we found that the number of threatened species in the average nation is expected to
increase 7% by 2020, and 14% by 2050, as forecast by human population growth alone. Our ﬁndings strongly support the notion
that abating human population growth is a necessary, if not suﬃcient, step in the epic attempt to conserve biodiversity on the global
# 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Biodiversity; Human population growth; Human density; Threatened species; Species richness
Underlying anthropogenic changes to natural environments (Sala, 2000; Wakermagel et al., 2002; Rosser
and Mainka, 2002), one of the greatest threats to species
biodiversity and ecosystem function may result from the
high density and rapid growth of the human population
(Kerr and Currie, 1995; Forester and Machlis, 1996;
Kirkland and Ostfeld, 1999; Thompson and Jones,
1999; Cincotta, Wisnewski, and Engelman, 2000; Cincotta and Engelman, 2000; Abbitt et al., 2000;
McKinney, 2001; Harcourt, Parks and Woodroﬀe,
2001; Harcourt and Parks, 2003; Balmford et al., 2001;
Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2002). The growth and expansion
of pre-human and human populations has long displaced other species and led to their extinction, starting
in the Pliocene and accelerating in the Holocene (Klein,
2000; Alroy, 2001; McKee, 2001, 2003).
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-614-292-2745; fax: +1-614-2924155.
E-mail address: email@example.com (J.K. McKee).
0006-3207/03/$ – see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Although human population growth rates determine
future population sizes, current growth rates do not
appear to serve as good estimators of existing biodiversity threats. Forester and Machlis (1996) found no
signiﬁcant correlation between biodiversity loss and
national population change between 1980 and 1990.
Associations of current human population growth with
biodiversity ‘‘hotspots’’ are clear (Cincotta et al., 2000;
Cincotta and Engelman, 2000), but biased by the inclusion of population density and growth eﬀects in the
deﬁnition of hotspots (Myers et al., 2000).
However, recent research has shown a clear relationship between human population size and biodiversity
threats. In the United States, human population size
was one of seven signiﬁcant variables in models proposed by Kirkland and Ostfeld (1999) that estimated
threatened mammal taxa per state with up to 80.7%
accuracy. In Britain, Thompson and Jones (1999) could
explain about 35% of the variation in the proportion of
threatened plants by human population density.
On a global scale, Kerr and Currie (1995) found
human population density was the anthropogenic factor
J.K. McKee et al. / Biological Conservation 115 (2003) 161–164
most closely related to the proportion of threatened bird
species per nation, although the number of threatened
mammal species was more closely tied to per capita
GNP. McKinney (2001) calculated that log-transformed
population density accounted for 16–33% of the variation in nation-by-nation levels of threat to continental
mammal and bird species, with a stronger association
among mammals than birds.
Although McKinney found a strong and signiﬁcant
correlation, he noted that the ‘‘corollary is of course
that this leaves about two thirds of the extinction threat
variation remaining to be explained by other factors’’
(2001: 53). Implicit in this statement is that variations in
human exploitation of natural resources may explain a
large portion of the residuals, but we hypothesized that
much of the residual variation could be explained by
ecological diﬀerences among nations.
Given the undeniable relationship between human
population density and threats to other species, our goal
was to build a statistical model with improved explanatory value, incorporating population data and ecological characteristics of nations, to better understand the
nature of the relationship and to project how future
population growth may threaten other species.
2. Data and methods
We focused our study on mammals and birds, as their
species richness and conservation status are best known
and documented. Our analysis was based on data
reported by nation. Although the geographic variability
within and among nations renders the data less than
ideal, it allows the compilation of data on biodiversity
threats, human population size, and ecological variables. Whereas economic variables such as GNP are
probably related to species threats, our goal was to
focus on the relative eﬀects of human population size
rather than variations in human activity, using only
variables that can reasonably be forecast for the foreseeable future.
We compiled IUCN Red List (2000) data on threatened (critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable) mammal and bird species. The total numbers of
known mammal and bird species per nation were collected from the UNEP–WCMC Animals of the World
Database. Climatic data on mean annual temperature
and mean annual precipitation per nation were also
included (Mitchell and Hulme, 2000). Human census
data for the year 2000 came from the world database of
the US Census Bureau.
Following the protocol of Forester and Machlis
(1996), island nations and extremely small nations (e.g.
Monaco) were excluded due to exceptionally high
human population densities and severe ecological disruption that skewed the data in favor of high corre-
lations between density and biodiversity threats
(McKinney, 2001). Other nations were excluded due to
missing data, particularly from the former Soviet block.
Ultimately we used 114 of the 230 initially compiled
Preliminary analysis of a correlation matrix was conducted in order to establish potential variables that
would be signiﬁcantly correlated with the number of
threatened species of birds and mammals. All frequency
variables were divided by each nation’s geographic area
(in 106 km2) to account for size diﬀerentials among
nations. The variables were log-transformed (base 10) to
normalize their distributions, excepting growth rate,
temperature and precipitation. A stepwise procedure
was used to select a subset of predictor variables for use
in a multiple regression analysis.
In order to make projections regarding future eﬀects
of population growth on threatened species, we used US
Census Bureau projected population sizes for each
country for 2020 and 2050 in the model, and compared
them to the model’s output for 2000.
The correlates of threatened bird and mammal species
per unit area are shown in Table 1. As in other studies,
the current human population growth rate was not signiﬁcantly correlated with species threats. However,
human population density alone was signiﬁcantly and
strongly correlated with threatened species per unit area
(r2=0.402, P log species richness+0.259 human population density.
The model’s outcome was transformed to raw numbers of threatened species per nation to detect the range
of error. Brazil by far had the greatest net error, with
the model underestimating their number of threatened
species by 45 (26%). This, however, is under 2% of the
total number of species, as was the case for most of the
predicted frequencies (95 of 114 nations).
Species richness correlates with climatic parameters
that could aﬀect the number of threatened species, as
these variables added no statistically signiﬁcant value to
explaining the residuals. Under the assumption that the
species richness ﬁgs. are a proxy for general ecological
character of each nation, we kept the species richness
values constant for the projections.
The model predicted signiﬁcant increases in biodiversity threats for those nations with growing populations, and modest declines for nations expected to
experience population losses (Fig. 2). The median projected increases in the number of threatened mammal
and bird species per nation are 1.6 within the next 20
years, and 3.0 species by 2050. This represents average
increases of 7 and 14.3% respectively. The greatest
projected increase in threats by 2050 would be 26
additional threatened species in Congo, a 38%
increase, reﬂecting its high biodiversity and large
potential human population size stemming from its
3.19% growth rate. Even with the more modest 0.91%
population growth rate in the United States, an additional 10 species are forecast to become threatened in
association with human population density increases by
Fig. 2. Forecast changes in number of mammal and bird species
threatened for each of 114 nations in 2050.
Our model demonstrates that among the 114 nations
measured, 87.9% of the variation in the numbers of
threatened species of mammals and birds can be
accounted for by human population density and species
richness. In other words, the density of people is a key
factor in species threats, depending upon the ecological
nature of a nation and the number of species ‘‘available’’ for the threat of extinction. This simple relationship allows us to project likely extinction threats into
the future based on trends in human population growth.
With national variations in anthropogenic factors being
roughly equivalent, population growth may be expected
to precipitate a global increase of 14.7% more species
threatened by 2050. If other taxa follow the same pattern as mammals and birds, as is sometimes assumed
(Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2002), then we are facing a serious threat to global biodiversity associated our growing
Other ecological factors, such as the degree of endemism, may play a role in explaining the remaining
12.1% of the variability in proportions of threatened
species. The percentage of mammals endemic to a
nation could not be directly included in the model
because they were not normally distributed, and the logtransformation eliminated countries with zero endemic
mammals from the analysis. However, on the average,
nations that were underestimated by the model have
more than twice the proportion of mammals being
endemic to their borders, a diﬀerence which is statisti-
J.K. McKee et al. / Biological Conservation 115 (2003) 161–164
cally signiﬁcant (P
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