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.
Andrew P . Jacobson, Jason Riggio, Alexander M. Tait & Jonathan E. M. Baillie, Global areas of low human impact (‘Low Impact Areas’) and fragmentation of the natural world. Nature.com Scientific Reports 2019