Comparing the impact of future cropland expansion on global biodiversity and carbon storage across models and scenarios

Amy Molotoks, Roslyn C Henry, Elke Stehfest, Jonathan Doelman, Petr Havlík, Tamás Krisztin, Peter Alexander, Terence P. Dawson, Pete Smith

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Land-use change is a direct driver of biodiversity and carbon storage loss. Projections of future land-use often include notable expansion of cropland areas in response to changes in climate and food demand, although there are large
uncertainties in results between models and scenarios. This study examines these uncertainties by comparing three different socio-economic scenarios (SSP1-3) across three models (IMAGE, GLOBIOM and PLUMv2). It assesses the impacts on biodiversity metrics and direct carbon loss from biomass and soil as a direct consequence of cropland expansion. Results show substantial variation between models and scenarios, with little overlap across all nine projections. Although SSP1 projects the least impact, there are still significant impacts projected. IMAGE and GLOBIOM project the greatest impact across carbon storage and biodiversity metrics due to both extent and location of cropland expansion. Furthermore, for all the biodiversity and carbon metrics used, there is a greater proportion of variance explained by model used. This demonstrates the importance of improving the accuracy of land-based models. Incorporating effects of land-use change in biodiversity impact assessments would also help better prioritise future protection of biodiverse and carbon-rich areas.

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Authors.
Conservation International, The Alliance for Zero Extinction and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) are acknowledged for provision of data.

Funding statement
This work contributes to the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI DEVIL project (NE/M021327/1) and the NERC funded Soils-RGGREAT project (NE/P019455/1). AM is supported by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
(BBSRC) EastBio Studentship ( (grant number BB/M010996/1) and the Global Challenges Research Fund Trade, Development and the Environment Hub project (ES/S008160/1). PA and RH are supported by the UK’s Global Food Security Programme project ‘Resilience of the UK food system to Global Shocks’ (RUGS, BB/N020707/1).


  • land use change
  • biodiversity
  • carbon storage
  • integrated models

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