Since the 1990s, our planet has lost nearly three million square kilometres of wilderness areas—parts of the world where human impact has been absent or minimal, according to a study which found that conserving such regions can cut the Earth's extinction risk by half.
The research, published in the journal Nature, found that more than 10 per cent of the planet's wilderness has been destroyed since the 1990s—an area about the size of India.
The authors of the study, including those from, the University of Queensland in Australia, cautioned that only less than 20 per cent of the world's current area can still be called wilderness, of which, many are found outside of national parks and other protected areas.
The direct benefits of wilderness for stopping species extinction were largely unknown previously, according to the study.
The researchers made use of the new global biodiversity modelling infrastructure—BILBI—developed at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) headquartered in Australia, which can provide fine-scale estimates of species loss around the globe.
By integrating this with the latest human footprint map, the scientists showed that many wilderness areas are critical to prevent the loss of terrestrial species in several parts of the world.
"Wilderness areas clearly act as a buffer against extinction risk, the risk of species loss is over twice as high for biological communities found outside wilderness areas," said Moreno Di Marco of CSIRO and lead author of the study.
Marco added that wilderness habitats made an even greater contribution in sustaining biodiversity since some species can exist both inside and outside them.
Such areas are essential to support many species that may otherwise have to live in degraded habitats, he said.
According to the scientists, the role played by the wilderness areas in some regions of the world—such as parts of the Arnhem Land in Australia, forests in southern British Columbia, and areas surrounding Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon—are so crucial that their losses could drastically reduce the sustenance of biodiversity.
"This research provides the evidence for how essential it is for the global conservation community to specifically target protecting Earth's remaining wilderness," said James Watson, senior author of the study from the University of Queensland.
These wilderness areas that are under threat are crucial for mitigating the climate crisis, for ensuring the long-term bio-cultural connections of indigenous communities, and for the regulation of water cycles, Watson said.
The researchers advised that business standards should be strictly enforced for stopping industrial footprints within intact ecosystems. — PTI
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