Protecting 1.2% Of Earth’s Land Could Save Rare And Threatened Species, Study Says

Targeted environmental protection could help prevent biodiversity extinction


3 Minutes Read

Photo shows an endangered forest gorilla watching humans from the jungle Protecting particularly valuable ecosystems is an easy way to preserve biodiversity - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

A new study has found that protecting as little as 1.2 percent of the Earth’s land could be enough to preserve thousands of the most threatened and important species.

Read more: New Study Names Biodiversity Loss As The Main Driver Of Infectious Disease Outbreaks

A team of researchers identified 16,825 sites that must be protected within the next five years to prevent the destruction of unique biodiversity and to mitigate the global sixth great extinction event, which some believe is already well underway.

Frontiers in Science published the new study – titled “Conservation Imperatives: securing the last unprotected terrestrial sites harboring irreplaceable biodiversity” – earlier this week. 

According to its authors, intentional, targeted protection of specific areas could do more to protect endangered wildlife and ecosystems than existing carbon sequestration-focused conservation plans.

For example, world governments have pledged to protect 30 percent of the planet for nature by 2030, but the new study finds that many of the areas in need of urgent protection are not being targeted. In fact, the authors estimated that between 2018 and 2023, just seven percent of new protected areas were home to the planet’s most endangered species.

One factor for this mismatch is that many of the sites in need of protection – or “Conservation Imperatives,” as the study authors call them – contain economically valuable industries such as forestry and agriculture. The authors highlight the urgent need for science-led biodiversity protection at these sites.

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Protecting biodiversity: ‘Most species on Earth are rare’

Photo shows the complex root system of an endangered mangrove forest
Jimmynature – Many unique ecosystems – like the mangrove forest pictured here – need their biodiversity protecting

The new study supplies a detailed map of the highly concentrated areas in need of immediate protection. Tropical and subtropical moist forests make up 75 percent of the mapped regions, and just five countries – the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Colombia – contain 59 percent of the zones that must be protected.

“Most species on Earth are rare, meaning that species either have very narrow ranges or they occur at very low densities or both,” lead study author Dr. Eric Dinerstein told “In our study, zooming in on this rarity, we found that we need only about 1.2 percent of the Earth’s surface to head off the sixth great extinction of life on Earth.”

Notably, 38 percent of the listed Conservation Imperatives are within 2.5km of existing protected areas and could be protected at a relatively low financial cost. The study estimates that approximately USD $53 billion per year could protect all recommended sites within five years, for less than 0.4 percent of the United States’ GDP.

For context, the wealthiest Americans are thought to avoid approximately $163 billion in income tax every single year, while the federal government wasted around $247 billion in simple payment errors in 2022 alone. The same year, global fossil fuel subsidies reached $7 trillion or 7.1 percent of GDP in 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Read more: Hundreds Of Climate Scientists Predict Global Heating Of At Least 2.5C

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