Publication Abstracts

Hillel and Rosenzweig 2008

Hillel, D., and C. Rosenzweig, 2008: Biodiversity and food production. In Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity. E. Chivian and A. Bernstein, Eds., Oxford University Press, pp. 325-381.

Human beings, originally children of Nature, representing one species among many that shared the terrestrial environment, have gradually increased in numbers and expanded the extent and range of their activity so that we have now gained dominance over, and drastically modified, entire terrestrial and even marine biomes through the world. (Biomes are the world's major biological communities, defined by their predominant vegetation, e.g., forests, deserts, and grasslands.) As a result, numerous other species have been deprived of their natural habitats and have been endangered or even eradicated. As mentioned in chapter 1, recent calculations suggest that rates of species extinctions are now on the order of 100 to 1,000 times greater than those before man dominated Earth. For some well-documented groups, extinction rates have been even greater. Unless checked, the continued increase in human population and the intensified manipulation of the environment for short-term advantage are more than likely to result in serious consequences for human health. Having tampered with Nature in hopes of gaining control over it, humans are now more dependent on Nature than ever, especially on the diversity and intrinsic mutuality of all life forms that are its essential features.

A crucial imperative is to ensure the adequate production and supply of food for a human population of more than six billion and increasing, in a world in which terrestrial and aquatic resources already have been seriously degraded or depleted. Despite the lower fertility levels projected and the increased mortality risks to which some populations are being subject, the population of the world is expected to increase from approximately 6.5 billion at present to around 8.9 billion by 2050 (8.9 billion is the "best guess" mid-range estimate, made in 2004 by the U.N. Populations Fund.) The yearly addition of some seventy-seven million people on average poses many extremely difficult challenges for human beings, especially in producing adequate supplies of food. The world's current mean population density of fifty people per square kilometer (slightly more than seventeen people per square mile) is projected to rise to seventy people people per square kilometer, and since only about 10 percent of land is arable (i.e., suitable for agriculture), population densities per unit of arable land are, in fact, roughly ten times higher than these figures. Given the poverty and famine that prevail in several regions, and the predicted change of Earth's climate (which in normal state is already inherently unstable), it is an open question whether, and how, humanity can provide for itself while avoiding irreverisble damage to natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. Increasing awareness of the issue and the development of new methods for conserving and managing food producing ecosystems, on land and in the oceans, offer hope for some progress in this difficult task. Using the promise inherent in such methods, however, must be constrained by an understanding of the potential problems and hazards they pose.

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BibTeX Citation

  author={Hillel, D. and Rosenzweig, C.},
  editor={Chivian, E. and Bernstein, A.},
  title={Biodiversity and food production},
  booktitle={Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity},
  publisher={Oxford University Press},

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RIS Citation

ID  - hi07200b
AU  - Hillel, D.
AU  - Rosenzweig, C.
ED  - Chivian, E.
ED  - Bernstein, A.
PY  - 2008
TI  - Biodiversity and food production
BT  - Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity
SP  - 325
EP  - 381
PB  - Oxford University Press
ER  -

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