Wilderness Areas Halve the Risk of Species Extinction – The Importance of Wilderness for Safeguarding Global Biodiversity
Wilderness areas - in which human impact is minimal or altogether absent - are rapidly disappearing. The last report reveals that since 1990 we have lost over 3 million square kilometres of wilderness globally. Today, these areas amount to less than 20% of terrestrial land. However, until today, the impact of this loss on biodiversity was not fully clear.
A new study, coordinated by Moreno Di Marco from the “Charles Darwin” Department of Biology and Biotechnology, reveals the importance of these territories for the conservation of biodiversity. In particular, the study reveals how wilderness is critical to prevent the risk of extinction for many species. The results have been published in the journal Nature.
The analysis made use of an innovative modelling platform, developed by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The infrastructure is capable of providing high-resolution estimates of the probability of persistence of biodiversity, by estimating the proportion of species in each biological community which are expected to survive in the long term. Researchers integrated this information with a recent map of the distribution of wilderness areas, developed by the American Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with the University of Queensland in Australia.
The study reveals that wilderness areas host biological communities with unique species composition and/or represent the only example of intact natural habitats for communities that have experienced high rates of environmental degradation elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the study also reveals that these fundamental areas for biodiversity are not sufficiently protected.
“Areas of wilderness,” explains Moreno Di Marco, “act as a buffer against the risk of extinction. The risk of species loss is more than double for biological communities that reside outside of these areas. However, the significance of wilderness is even greater because there are species that live both inside and outside of these areas, hence wilderness habitat is essential to support the conservation of many species that would otherwise experience poor environmental conditions.”
The study has also revealed how wilderness around the world contributes, in different ways, to safeguarding biodiversity. And many of these areas play an essential role in their regional contexts. Some examples include the Arnhem Land in Australia (which belongs to the jurisdiction of various Indigenous Protected Areas, managed by aboriginal communities), the areas around the Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon, the boreal forests in Canadian British Columbia (only partially protected), and the savannahs both inside and outside of the Zemongo Reserve in the Central African Republic.
Wilderness areas halve the extinction risk of terrestrial biodiversity - Di Marco, Ferrier, Harwood, Hoskins, Watson - Nature (2019) DOI https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1567-7
Moreno Di Marco
“Charles Darwin” Department of Biology and Biotechnology, Sapienza University of Rome