Stopping biodiversity loss makes sense

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Stopping biodiversity loss makes sense

In Finland, the yields of Turnip Rapeseed have been declining due to pollinator loss.

Biodiversity loss caused by human action results in nature becoming degraded and uniform. This hampers the provision of ecosystem services, such as pollination, which is essential for food production. As an EU member, Finland plays an important role in nature conservation.

Nature is diverse by its nature. Species living in a same area depend on each other. These dependencies can be depicted as a fabric, in which each thread represents one species. Human action degrading nature results in the gradual, often unpredictable perishing of this fabric. The more individuals – and eventually entire species – are lost, the more severe changes in ecosystem functioning we witness.

The main driver of biodiversity loss is the habitat decline and degradation caused by human activity. For example, natural resource use, construction, and land use change cause biodiversity loss. As large proportion of Finland’s land area is managed for agriculture and forestry, our economy is strongly dependent on nature.

Nature is also psychologically important for Finns. Therefore, it makes sense to enhance nature conservation and restoration and cut emissions to water and air. In addition, we should develop biodiversity-friendly land use practices and enhance circular economy. We need to address biodiversity loss and make use of research-based knowledge.

64% of Finns wish for more active measures from the government to halt the biodiversity loss.

79% think that climate change and biodiversity loss should be tackled together.1

We build hope through research.

Syke Policy Brief | Sustainable solutions for environmental policy | Finnish Environment Institute | 7.5.2024
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What is nature, actually?

Nature is life on Earth. The main characteristics of nature are versatility and ability to adapt and evolve which enables effective use of limited resources. Because of evolution nature is naturally diverse and it forms well-functioning entities. For example, in a Finnish forest stream multiple insect larvae eat tree leaves fallen to the water and sank to the bottom and are, at the same time, themselves food for the trout that swims up-river to spawn.

Living beings are diverse on multiple levels. On the most detailed level one can examine the diversity of genes. Genetic diversity is the very thing that ensures that individuals have different characteristics. Different individuals create versatile groups called populations. The most common level is probably species diversity. Together with abiotic environment, species’ communities form ecosystems, such as field verges or lakes. Diversity on different levels enables populations and species to adapt in the changing environment.

Diversity and preconditions set by abiotic nature, e.g. climate, invent creative solutions. For example, in a forest stream a particular family of caddis flies (Polycentropodidae) catch small food particles using peculiar web-like structures. Unique species communities adapted to the stream provide ecosystem services that are important also for us humans. Diverse mosscovered stream bottoms attract multiple insect species that maintain the trout population but also purify the water.

Diversity is thus not separate from nature. By protecting biodiversity we secure the natural species pool. It is also important to sustain natural processes in the areas dedicated to economic use.

Biodiversity loss happens insidiously

Biodiversity loss results in nature becoming degraded and uniform, i.e. species communities start to resemble each other. Although construction and infrastructure pose concrete threats toward nature, biodiversity is also lost little by little as genetic diversity is lost due to weakened living conditions of populations. 2 Biodiversity loss moves towards endangerment and even towards extinction as individuals die faster than new ones are born, reproduction is weak, and it is hard to find suitable habitat.

In Häme, Southern Finland, density of bird populations declined notably in 30 years3

Long-distance migrants Residents

* The bird population density (pairs / km2) was indexed so that the population density in 1993 was set as an index of 1.

Both the densities of long-distance migrants, e.g. one of the most common passerines in Finland, the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), as well as the residents, e.g. the Willow Tit (Poecile montanus), declined almost half (by 44%) in the research period 1993–2021. The causes for the decline were cumulatively increasing clear-cuts and warming summers.

More than half of Finnish businesses estimated that biodiversity loss affects their business environment. Biodiversity loss is thus a significant threat to economy and wellbeing of Finns. 4

In a diverse forest stand there is a rich variety of tree species of different ages but also a lot of decaying and dead wood, both standing and on the ground. The forest structure is multi-layered and there are small water bodies and variations in moisture.

0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1994 Density index*
199820022006201020142018 2022
Syke Policy Brief | Sustainable solutions for environmental policy | Finnish Environment Institute | 7.5.2024

Do we gamble with life?

When a species declines, the effect it has on other species changes. In Finland, lakes are affected by eutrophication which has changed the species living in the lake bottoms (benthic fauna). These small creatures are food for many other species, including waterfowl like the Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) which has declined by 90% from the levels detected in the 1970s.5 In the archipelago of the Baltic Sea the decline of the Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) has consequences for the local fishermen, as the Bladderwrack habitats are crucial for many fishes. Changes in the ecosystem functioning are the most alarming consequence of biodiversity loss. As we do not know all the species and their roles in the ecosystems, we gamble with life as the biodiversity keeps on declining. The more we lose natural diversity, the more dramatic changes will happen.6 Globally, more than half of our gross domestic product relies on natural capital7 and according to some estimates the same may hold true also in Finland.

In Finland, the yields of insect-pollinated Turnip Rapeseed (Brassica rapa) have declined due to the pollinator loss caused by the increased use of pesticides8

Red list – a red flag for biodiversity

Endangerment is a consequence of biodiversity loss. There are threatened or red-listed species and habitats because we have not been able to react on biodiversity loss in time.

Species or habitats assessed as threatened are in danger to permanently disappear, that is, to go extinct. Hence, red-listing is a significant warning, a red flag. With species the assessment is based on their diminishing population size or geographical range. With habitats, such as different small water bodies or forest types, the assessment is based on the changes in their quantity or quality.

The extinction risk is described by a threat category which can be explained by an example of human life expectancy. If a species were a 50-year-old human with a life expectancy of 80 years, being in the category of “Least concern”, it would live another 30 years. An “Endangered” 50-year-old could expect to live for 18 hours, and a “Critically Endangered” 50-year-old would probably be dead inside 3 hours.9


Centered moving averages

Average turnip rapeseed yields in Finland were steadily increasing from 1980 until 1993 (green). Yields from 1993 until 2015 were clearly decreasing (red). One reason behind the decline was pollinator loss caused by the increased use of neonicotinoid insecticides for seed dressing of crops.

Currently approximately 12% or 2,667 Finnish species are assessed as threatened.5

Almost half (48%) of Finnish habitat types have been assessed as threatened.10

Forestry narrows down the species pool and changes the quality, quantity, and connectivity of species’ habitats. As biodiversity decreases, the risk for diminishing forest productivity increases especially in a changing climate.

There is a global trend of declining forest productivity with diminishing tree species richnes11

There were nearly 800,000 forest plots surveyed in the study from altogether 44 countries, including Finland. The data included more than 8,000 tree species. In Finland, the situation is not as alarming as in many other countries, as forestry is based on natural tree species and we have started to preserve deciduous trees in the fellings.

TAINA SOHLMAN / STOCK.ADOBE.COM 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Forest productivity, m3/ha/year Proportion of natural tree species richness 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 2,000 1,800 1,600 1,400 1,200 1,000 800 600 400 200 1979 1983 1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2015
PHOTO: turnip rapeseed yields in Finland (triangles) (squares)
Syke Policy Brief | Sustainable solutions for environmental policy | Finnish Environment Institute | 7.5.2024
Yield (kg/ha)

Biodiversity-rich nature safeguards our future

Biodiversity is a prerequisite for human health and wellbeing.12 Biodiversity loss and climate change create poor living conditions that increase conflicts and refugees migrating to the EU.13 Hence, nature conservation does not aim to place nature in a museum or go back in time, but to safeguard our future within the planetary boundaries.

In Finland, forestry plays an important role in our socioeconomical environment. It is also a wicked problem for biodiversity, as it has major effects on both forest and water ecosystems. More than half of Finnish peatland has been drained mainly for the purposes of forestry. Forestry threatens especially species dependent on old trees, deciduous trees, and dead wood. Also, riparian biodiversity is under a threat due to e.g. electric power plants. Lake ecosystems are threatened by nutrients, solid matter and humus running from the catchment areas. The ecosystems in the Baltic Sea suffer from eutrophication caused by nutrients, but also from chemicals and over-fishing. Climate change is alone and together with other pressures a major driver for biodiversity loss especially in the fast-warming North.10

As part of the EU, Finland is resposible to protect its boreal and arctic nature. We have still a lot of nature left compared to many other EU countries, and thus there is a great opportunity to protect a network of well-functioning ecosystems. Promoting nature conservation, restoration and management should be made a priority. The faster we act, the smaller are the costs – restoring a species from the edge of extinction is always costly and difficult. Often many measures taken to halt the biodiversity loss, such as restoration and nature management, also offer employment possibilities especially in the rural areas.


1 Climate Barometer 2023: The majority of Finns see climate solutions as an opportunity to improve competitiveness and wellbeing. Press release 27.2.2023.

2 Exposito-Alonso, M., Booker, T.R, Czech, L. et al. 2022: Genetic diversity loss in the Anthropocene. Science 377: 1431–1435.

3 Virkkala, R., Määttänen A.-M. & Heikkinen, R. 2023: Clear-cuts and warming summers caused forest bird populations to decline in a southern boreal area. Forest Ecology and Management 548.

4 Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto 2022: EK:n yrityskysely: Yli puolet yrityksistä arvioi luontokadon vaikuttavan toimintaympäristöön jo nyt . 7.7.2022. (In Finnish)

5 Hyvärinen, E., Juslén, A., Kemppainen, E., Uddstöm, A. & Liukko, U.-M. 2019: Suomen lajien uhanalaisuus: Punainen kirja 2019. Ympäristöministeriö & Suomen ympäristökeskus. (In Finnish, abstract in English)

6 IPBES 2019: Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

7 World Economic Forum 2020: Nature risk rising: Why the crisis engulfing nature

We can halt the biodiversity loss

• By increasing the amount of protected area according to the EU Biodiversity Strategy: 30% of the area protected of which one-third strictly

• By restoration and management of areas where nature values have been degraded, following the potential EU Restoration Law

• By biodiversity-friendly agriculture and forestry, construction, and policy incentives

• By rewilding green spaces and yards, and favouring the original plant species in the construction of green spaces

• By mitigating climate change in a way that takes biodiversity into account

• By sustainability transition6 that covers the whole society and leads to a circular bioeconomy with smaller amounts of waste and less pressure on natural resources.

matters for business and the economy New Nature Economy series. 36 p.

8 Hokkanen, H.M.T., Menzler-Hokkanen, I. & Keva, M. 2017: Long-term yield trends of insect-pollinated crops vary regionally and are linked to neonicotinoid use, landscape complexity, and availability of pollinators Arthropod-Plant Interactions 11: 449–461.

9 Purvis, A. 2019: A million threatened species? Thirteen questions and answers IPBES blogi:

10 Kontula, T. & Raunio, A. (eds.) 2019: Threatened Habitat Types in Finland 2018. Red List of Habitats - Results and Basis for Assessment. Finnish Environment Institute and Ministry of the Environment, Helsinki. The Finnish Environment 2/2019.

11 Liang, J.J., Crowther, T.W., Picard, N. et al. 2016: Positive biodiversity-productivity relationship predominant in global forests Science 354: 6309.

12 Aivelo, T. & Lehtimäki, J. 2021: Luonnon monimuotoisuus edistää kansanterveyttä Lääketieteellinen aikakauskirja Duodecim 137: 2135–2141. (In Finnish)

13 Nguyen, T.T., Grote, U., Neubacher, F., Rahut, D.B., Do, M.H. & Paudel, G.P. 2023: Security risks from climate change and environmental degradation: implications for sustainable land use transformation in the Global South. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 63: 101322.

Syke Policy Brief | 7.5.2024

Stopping biodiversity loss makes sense

Authors: Saija Kuusela, Mari Annala, Louise Forsblom, Laura H. Härkönen, Aino Juslén, Jenni Lehtimäki, Riikka Paloniemi, Minna Pappila, Eeva Primmer, Anna-Kaisa Ronkanen, Leif Schulman, Kimmo Tolonen, Raimo Virkkala

Editor: Leena Rantajärvi

Layout and graphics: Satu Turtiainen Photos:

Publisher: Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)

ISBN 978-952-11-5673-1 (pdf)

ISBN 978-952-11-5672-4 (print)

Follow Syke’s current research | Check out Syke Policy Briefs | Syke Policy Brief | Sustainable solutions for environmental policy | Finnish Environment Institute | 7.5.2024

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