Identifying regions vulnerable to habitat degradation under future irrigation scenarios

The loss and degradation of natural habitats is a primary cause of biodiversity decline. The increasing impacts of climate and land use change affect water availability, ultimately decreasing agricultural production. Areas devoted to irrigation have been increased to compensate this reduction, causing habitat and biodiversity losses, especially in regions undergoing severe water stress. These effects might intensify under global change, probably contributing to a decrease in habitat quality. We selected four European river basins across a gradient of water scarcity and irrigation agriculture. The habitat quality in the basins was assessed as a function of habitat suitability and threats under current and future global change scenarios of irrigation. Results revealed that the most threatened regions under future scenarios of global change were among those suffering of water scarcity and with bigger areas devoted to irrigation. Loss of habitat quality reached 10% in terrestrial and 25% in aquatic ecosystems under climate change scenarios involving drier conditions. The aquatic habitats were the most degraded in all scenarios, since they were affected by threats from both the terrestrial and the aquatic parts of the basin. By identifying in advance the regions most vulnerable to habitat and biodiversity loss, our approach can assist decision makers in deciding the conservation actions to be prioritized for mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change, particularly front the development of irrigation plans ​
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