Retaining natural vegetation to safeguard biodiversity and humanity

Jeremy S. Simmonds, Andres Felipe Suarez-Castro, April E. Reside, James E.M. Watson, James R. Allan, Scott C. Atkinson, Pasquale Borrelli, Nigel Dudley, Stephen Edwards, Richard A. Fuller, Edward T. Game, Simon Linke, Sean L. Maxwell, Panos Panagos, Philippe Puydarrieux, Fabien Quétier, Rebecca K. Runting, Talitha Santini, Laura J. Sonter, Martine Maron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Global efforts to deliver internationally agreed goals to reduce carbon emissions, halt biodiversity loss, and retain essential ecosystem services have been poorly integrated. These goals rely in part on preserving natural (e.g., native, largely unmodified) and seminatural (e.g., low intensity or sustainable human use) forests, woodlands, and grasslands. To show how to unify these goals, we empirically derived spatially explicit, quantitative, area-based targets for the retention of natural and seminatural (e.g., native) terrestrial vegetation worldwide. We used a 250-m-resolution map of natural and seminatural vegetation cover and, from this, selected areas identified under different international agreements as being important for achieving global biodiversity, carbon, soil, and water targets. At least 67 million km2 of Earth's terrestrial vegetation (∼79% of the area of vegetation remaining) required retention to contribute to biodiversity, climate, soil, and freshwater conservation objectives under 4 United Nations’ resolutions. This equates to retaining natural and seminatural vegetation across at least 50% of the total terrestrial (excluding Antarctica) surface of Earth. Retention efforts could contribute to multiple goals simultaneously, especially where natural and seminatural vegetation can be managed to achieve cobenefits for biodiversity, carbon storage, and ecosystem service provision. Such management can and should co-occur and be driven by people who live in and rely on places where natural and sustainably managed vegetation remains in situ and must be complemented by restoration and appropriate management of more human-modified environments if global goals are to be realized.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14040
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


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