Looking back on biodiversity change: Lessons for the road ahead

Maria Dornelas*, Jonathan M. Chase, Nicholas J. Gotelli, Anne E. Magurran, Brian J. McGill, Laura H. Antão, Shane A. Blowes, Gergana N. Daskalova, Brian Leung, Inês S. Martins, Faye Moyes, Isla H. Myers-Smith, Chris D. Thomas, Mark Vellend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Estimating biodiversity change across the planet in the context of widespread human modification is a critical challenge. Here, we review how biodiversity has changed in recent decades across scales and taxonomic groups, focusing on four diversity metrics: species richness, temporal turnover, spatial beta-diversity and abundance. At local scales, change across all metrics includes many examples of both increases and declines and tends to be centred around zero, but with higher prevalence of declining trends in beta-diversity (increasing similarity in composition across space or biotic homogenization) and abundance. The exception to this pattern is temporal turnover, with changes in species composition through time observed in most local assemblages. Less is known about change at regional scales, although several studies suggest that increases in richness are more prevalent than declines. Change at the global scale is the hardest to estimate accurately, but most studies suggest extinction rates are probably outpacing speciation rates, although both are elevated. Recognizing this variability is essential to accurately portray how biodiversity change is unfolding, and highlights how much remains unknown about the magnitude and direction of multiple biodiversity metrics at different scales. Reducing these blind spots is essential to allow appropriate management actions to be deployed. This article is part of the theme issue 'Detecting and attributing the causes of biodiversity change: needs, gaps and solutions'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220199
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1881
Early online date29 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided by the Leverhulme Trust Research Centre–the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity (M.D., ISM) and a Leverhulme Research grant (RPG-2019-402, A.E.M. and M.D.), a National Science Foundation–Natural Environment Research Council Biological Oceanography grant no. (1948946) (M.D.). M.D. was funded by the European Union (CoralINT, GA 101044975). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. J.M.C. and S.A.B. gratefully acknowledge the support of the German Centre of Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (funded by the German Research Foundation; FZT 118, 20254881). M.V. was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. I.S.M. has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 894644. L.H.A. was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant no. 340280). B.J.M. acknowledges support from USDA Hatch grant no. MAFES no. 1011538 and NSF EPSCOR Track II grant no. 2019470. G.N.D. was funded by a Schmidt Science Fellowship. N.J.G. acknowledges support from NSF EPSCOR Track II grant no. 2019470. B.L. was funded by a Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery grant no. (04086-2017). A.E.M. and M.D. acknowledge support from NERC grant NE/T004487/1. Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s).


  • diversity
  • ecosystem
  • global change
  • loss
  • species
  • wildlife

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