Do we have to choose between feeding the human population and conserving nature? Modelling the global dependence of people on ecosystem services

Abstract : The ability of the human population to continue growing depends strongly on the ecosystem services provided by nature. Nature, however, is becoming more and more degraded as the number of individuals increases, which could potentially threaten the future well-being of the human population. We use a dynamic model to conceptualise links between the global proportion of natural habitats and human demography, through four categories of ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating, cultural recreational and informational) to investigate the common future of nature and humanity in terms of size and well-being. Our model shows that there is generally a trade-off between the quality of life and human population size and identifies four short-term scenarios, corresponding to three long-term steady states of the model. First, human population could experience declines if nature becomes too degraded and regulating services diminish; second the majority of the population could be in a famine state, where the population continues to grow with minimal food provision. Between these scenarios, a desirable future scenario emerges from the model. It occurs if humans convert enough land to feed all the population, while maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. Finally, we find a fourth scenario, which combines famine and a decline in the population because of an overexploitation of land leading to a decrease in food production. Human demography is embedded in natural dynamics; the two factors should be considered together if we are to identify a desirable future for both nature and humans.
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Victor Cazalis, Michel Loreau, Kirsten Henderson. Do we have to choose between feeding the human population and conserving nature? Modelling the global dependence of people on ecosystem services. Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier, 2018, 634, pp.1463-1474. ⟨10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.360⟩. ⟨hal-02350523⟩

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