Global areas of low human impact ('Low Impact Areas') and fragmentation of the natural world.
ABSTRACT: Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities is the leading cause of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Protected areas are the primary response to this challenge and are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation efforts. Roughly 15% of land is currently protected although there is momentum to dramatically raise protected area targets towards 50%. But, how much land remains in a natural state? We answer this critical question by using open-access, frequently updated data sets on terrestrial human impacts to create a new categorical map of global human influence ('Low Impact Areas') at a 1?km2 resolution. We found that 56% of the terrestrial surface, minus permanent ice and snow, currently has low human impact. This suggests that increased protected area targets could be met in areas minimally impacted by people, although there is substantial variation across ecoregions and biomes. While habitat loss is well documented, habitat fragmentation and differences in fragmentation rates between biomes has received little attention. Low Impact Areas uniquely enabled us to calculate global fragmentation rates across biomes, and we compared these to an idealized globe with no human-caused fragmentation. The land in Low Impact Areas is heavily fragmented, compromised by reduced patch size and core area, and exposed to edge effects. Tropical dry forests and temperate grasslands are the world's most impacted biomes. We demonstrate that when habitat fragmentation is considered in addition to habitat loss, the world's species, ecosystems and associated services are in worse condition than previously reported.
Project description:Habitat loss imperils species both locally and globally, so protection of intact habitat is critical for slowing the rate of biodiversity decline. Globally, more than 150,000 protected areas have been designated with a goal of protecting species and ecosystems, but whether they can continue to achieve this goal as human impacts escalate is unknown. Here we show that in South Asia, one of the world's major growth epicentres, the trajectory of habitat conversion rates inside protected areas is indistinguishable from that on unprotected lands, and habitat conversion rates do not decline following gazettement of a protected area. Moreover, a quarter of the land inside South Asia's protected areas is now classified as human modified. If the global community is to make significant progress towards the Convention on Biological Diversity's Aichi Target on protected areas, there is an urgent need both to substantially enhance management of these protected areas and to develop systematic conservation outside the formal protected area system.
Project description:One of the major threats facing protected areas (PAs) is land-use change and habitat loss. We assessed the impact of land-use change on PAs. The majority of parks have been effective at protecting the ecosystems within their borders, even in areas with significant land-use pressures. More in particular, the capacity of PAs to slow down habitat degradation and to favour habitat restoration is clearly related to their size, with smaller areas that on average follow the dominant land-use change pattern into which they are embedded. Our results suggest that small parks are not going to be viable in the long term if they are considered as islands surrounded by a 'human-dominated ocean'. However, small PAs are, in many cases, the only option available, implying that we need to devote much more attention to the non-protected matrix in which PAs must survive.
Project description:Protected areas form a quintessential component of the global strategy to perpetuate tropical biodiversity within relatively undisturbed wildlands, but they are becoming increasingly isolated by rapid agricultural encroachment. Here we consider a network of 788 forest protected areas (PAs) in the world's largest tropical country to examine the degree to which they remain intact, and their responses to multiple biophysical and socioeconomic variables potentially affecting natural habitat loss under varying contexts of rural development. PAs within the complex Brazilian National System of Conservation Units (SNUC) are broken down into two main classes-strictly protected and sustainable use. Collectively, these account for 22.6% of the forest biomes within Brazil's national territory, primarily within the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest, but are widely variable in size, ecoregional representation, management strategy, and the degree to which they are threatened by human activities both within and outside reserve boundaries. In particular, we examine the variation in habitat conversion rates in both strictly protected and sustainable use reserves as a function of the internal and external human population density, and levels of land-use revenue in adjacent human-dominated landscapes. Our results show that PAs surrounded by heavily settled agro-pastoral landscapes face much greater challenges in retaining their natural vegetation, and that strictly protected areas are considerably less degraded than sustainable use reserves, which can rival levels of habitat degradation within adjacent 10-km buffer areas outside.
Project description:A recent global trend toward retirement of farmland presents opportunities to reclaim habitat for threatened and endangered species. We examine habitat restoration opportunities in one of the world's most converted landscapes, California's San Joaquin Desert (SJD). Despite the presence of 35 threatened and endangered species, agricultural expansion continues to drive habitat loss in the SJD, even as marginal farmland is retired. Over the next decades a combination of factors, including salinization, climate change, and historical groundwater overdraft, are projected to lead to the retirement of more than 2,000 km2 of farmland in the SJD. To promote strategic habitat protection and restoration, we conducted a quantitative assessment of habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat suitability, climatic niche stability, climate change impacts, habitat protection, and reintroduction opportunities for an umbrella species of the SJD, the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila). We use our suitability models, in conjunction with modern and historical land use maps, to estimate the historical and modern rate of habitat loss to development. The estimated amount of habitat lost since the species became protected under endangered species law in 1967 is greater than the total amount of habitat currently protected through public ownership and conservation easement. We document climatic niche contraction and associated range contraction away from the more mesic margins of the species' historical distribution, driven by the anthropogenic introduction of exotic grasses and forbs. The impact of exotic species on G. sila range dynamics appears to be still unfolding. Finally, we use NASA fallowed area maps to identify 610 km2 of fallowed or retired agricultural land with high potential to again serve as habitat. We discuss conservation strategies in light of the potential for habitat restoration and multiple drivers of ongoing and historical habitat loss.
Project description:Tropical forest fragmentation results in habitat and biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions. Here, we link an increased likelihood of tropical forest loss to decreasing fragment size, particularly in primary forests. The relationship holds for protected areas, albeit with half the rate of loss compared with all fragments. The fact that disturbance increases as primary forest fragment size decreases reflects higher land use pressures and improved access for resource extraction and/or conversion in smaller fragments. Large remaining forest fragments are found in the Amazon and Congo Basins and Insular Southeast Asia, with the majority of large extent/low loss fragments located in the Amazon. Tropical areas without large fragments, including Central America, West Africa, and mainland Southeast Asia, have higher loss within and outside of protected areas. Results illustrate the need for rigorous land use planning, management, and enforcement in maintaining large tropical forest fragments and restoring regions of advanced fragmentation.
Project description:In countries with high levels of urbanization, protected areas are often subject to human disturbance. In addition to dealing with fragmentation, land managers also have to confront the loss of characteristic ecosystems due to biotic homogenization, which is the increasing similarity of species assemblages among geographically separate regions. Using ants as a model system, we explored whether anthropogenic factors negatively affect biodiversity of protected areas of a regional network. We first analysed the effect of fragmentation and human activity on ant biodiversity within protected areas. Secondly, we tested whether homogenization could occur among protected areas. We sampled 79 plots in the most common habitats of 32 protected areas in southern Spain and calculated ant community richness and diversity indices, endemic richness, and Bray-Curtis similarity indices (between pairs of plots). We related these indices with patch fragmentation and human disturbance variables, taking into account environmental, spatial and landscape covariates. We used ANOSIM to test for differences between similarity indices, specifically among levels of anthropogenic disturbance. Species richness was positively correlated with the distance from the border of the protected areas and the number of endemic species was negatively correlated with the degree of fragmentation. Ant communities were similar within each protected area but differed across regions. Human disturbance was not correlated with community similarity among sampling points. Our approach suggests how the ability of European protected areas to sustain biodiversity is limited because they remain susceptible to anthropogenic impacts. Although ant communities maintained their biological distinctiveness, we reveal how fragmentation within protected areas is important for community richness and endemism maintenance.
Project description:Tropical moist forests contain the majority of terrestrial species. Human actions destroy between 1 and 2 million km(2) of such forests per decade, with concomitant carbon release into the atmosphere. Within these forests, protected areas are the principle defense against forest loss and species extinctions. Four regions-the Amazon, Congo, South American Atlantic Coast, and West Africa-once constituted about half the world's tropical moist forest. We measure forest cover at progressively larger distances inside and outside of protected areas within these four regions, using datasets on protected areas and land-cover. We find important geographical differences. In the Amazon and Congo, protected areas are generally large and retain high levels of forest cover, as do their surroundings. These areas are protected de facto by being inaccessible and will likely remain protected if they continue to be so. Deciding whether they are also protected de jure-that is, whether effective laws also protect them-is statistically difficult, for there are few controls. In contrast, protected areas in the Atlantic Coast forest and West Africa show sharp boundaries in forest cover at their edges. This effective protection of forest cover is partially offset by their very small size: little area is deep inside protected area boundaries. Lands outside protected areas in the Atlantic Coast forest are unusually fragmented. Finally, we ask whether global databases on protected areas are biased toward highly protected areas and ignore "paper parks." Analysis of a Brazilian database does not support this presumption.
Project description:The conservation efficiency of Protected Areas (PA) is influenced by the health and characteristics of the surrounding landscape matrix. Fragmentation of adjacent lands interrupts ecological flows within PAs and will decrease the ability of species to shift their distribution as climate changes. For five periods across the 21(st) century, we assessed changes to the extent of primary land, secondary land, pasture and crop land projected to occur within 50 km buffers surrounding IUCN-designated PAs. Four scenarios of land-use were obtained from the Land-Use Harmonization Project, developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The scenarios project the continued decline of primary lands within buffers surrounding PAs. Substantial losses are projected to occur across buffer regions in the tropical forest biomes of Indo-Malayan and the Temperate Broadleaf forests of the Nearctic. A number of buffer regions are projected to have negligible primary land remaining by 2100, including those in the Afrotropic's Tropical/Subtropical Grassland/Savanna/Shrubland. From 2010-2050, secondary land is projected to increase within most buffer regions, although, as with pasture and crops within tropical and temperate forests, projections from the four land-use scenarios may diverge substantially in magnitude and direction of change. These scenarios demonstrate a range of alternate futures, and show that although effective mitigation strategies may reduce pressure on land surrounding PAs, these areas will contain an increasingly heterogeneous matrix of primary and human-modified landscapes. Successful management of buffer regions will be imperative to ensure effectiveness of PAs and to facilitate climate-induced shifts in species ranges.
Project description:There is high uncertainty surrounding the magnitude of current and future biodiversity loss that is occurring due to human disturbances. Here, we present a global meta-analysis of experimental and observational studies that report 327 measures of change in species richness between disturbed and undisturbed habitats across both terrestrial and aquatic biomes. On average, human-mediated disturbances lead to an 18.3% decline in species richness. Declines in species richness were highest for endotherms (33.2%), followed by producers (25.1%), and ectotherms (10.5%). Land-use change and species invasions had the largest impact on species richness resulting in a 24.8% and 23.7% decline, respectively, followed by habitat loss (14%), nutrient addition (8.2%), and increases in temperature (3.6%). Across all disturbances, declines in species richness were greater for terrestrial biomes (22.4%) than aquatic biomes (5.9%). In the tropics, habitat loss and land-use change had the largest impact on species richness, whereas in the boreal forest and Northern temperate forests, species invasions had the largest impact on species richness. Along with revealing trends in changes in species richness for different disturbances, biomes, and taxa, our results also identify critical knowledge gaps for predicting the effects of human disturbance on Earth's biomes.
Project description:Limited resources are available to address the world's growing environmental problems, requiring conservationists to identify priority sites for action. Using new distribution maps for all of the world's forest-dependent birds (60.6% of all bird species), we quantify the contribution of remaining forest to conserving global avian biodiversity. For each of the world's partly or wholly forested 5-km cells, we estimated an impact score of its contribution to the distribution of all the forest bird species estimated to occur within it, and so is proportional to the impact on the conservation status of the world's forest-dependent birds were the forest it contains lost. The distribution of scores was highly skewed, a very small proportion of cells having scores several orders of magnitude above the global mean. Ecoregions containing the highest values of this score included relatively species-poor islands such as Hawaii and Palau, the relatively species-rich islands of Indonesia and the Philippines, and the megadiverse Atlantic Forests and northern Andes of South America. Ecoregions with high impact scores and high deforestation rates (2000-2005) included montane forests in Cameroon and the Eastern Arc of Tanzania, although deforestation data were not available for all ecoregions. Ecoregions with high impact scores, high rates of recent deforestation and low coverage by the protected area network included Indonesia's Seram rain forests and the moist forests of Trinidad and Tobago. Key sites in these ecoregions represent some of the most urgent priorities for expansion of the global protected areas network to meet Convention on Biological Diversity targets to increase the proportion of land formally protected to 17% by 2020. Areas with high impact scores, rapid deforestation, low protection and high carbon storage values may represent significant opportunities for both biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, for example through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiatives.