Quantcast
Popular
This "safety net" rendering is the first attempt to show what a 50 percent conservation target could look like by the year 2050. RESOLVE

Conservationists, Computer Scientists to Map a ‘Safety Net’ for Earth

By Mike Gaworecki

A team of biologists and computer scientists plan to map a global "safety net" for planet Earth.

The mapping effort, to be led by Washington, DC-based non-profit research organization RESOLVE together with Globaïa, an NGO based in Quebec, Canada, and Brazil's Universidade Federal de Viçosa, aims to identify the most critical terrestrial regions to protect as we work towards the goal of conserving 50 percent of the world's land area.


Scientists and conservationists have argued for years that setting aside at least half of the world's land mass as off-limits to human enterprise is necessary if we are to conserve our planet's biodiversity. Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson is, of course, one of the chief proponents of this conservation target, as detailed in his 2016 book Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life.

There was an overall decline of 58 percent in wildlife population sizes between the years 1970 and 2012, the World Wildlife Fund reported earlier this year in its annual Living Planet Report. If current trends continue, the group added, population abundance of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles will have declined, on average, by some 67 percent by 2020.

It's not just flora and fauna species at risk if we don't find a way to preserve intact ecosystems, however. Mankind also relies on the services provided by nature, including clean water for drinking and crop irrigation, for instance, while the sequestration of massive amounts of carbon in the world's forests helps regulate the global climate cycle.

The "safety net" that RESOLVE and its partner institutions plan to map out will consist of a network of wildlife corridors that connect every protected area on Earth and link them up with other high-priority landscapes, as well, even those that are unprotected. These corridors are necessary for migratory species and wide-ranging species like big cats to thrive. They also provide a means for species to shift their ranges as temperatures continue to rise due to global warming and their current habitat becomes inhospitable.

Advances in computer modeling techniques have made it possible to examine all 125 million square kilometers of habitable land area on Earth and evaluate the importance of each square kilometer for preserving biodiversity and sustaining agricultural production, according to Eric Dinerstein, the scientist leading the mapping effort.

In order to map all of the planet's protected areas, key landscapes, and crucial wildlife corridors, Dinerstein and team plan to utilize 52 different data sets, on everything from biodiversity hotspots and species density to agricultural output and projections of future human development. They estimate that it will require thousands of hours of computer processing time to complete their study.

"Constructing a 'safety net' for the Earth's biota remained a dream until a few years ago when access to supercomputers and massive data storage allowed such an ambitious study to be carried out. This new map will offer a global view of how to reconnect the Earth's natural treasures," Dinerstein said in a statement. "It is just a starting point, and will continually evolve with new data and insights provided by scientists around the world."

The algorithms used by Dinerstein and team in the modeling done for their research will be released publicly so that other researchers can create a "safety net" map for regional, national and transnational contexts.

The mapping initiative was launched and funded by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (which also provides funding to Mongabay). A parallel effort to map a "safety net" for the world's oceans connecting marine protected areas that are vital to maintaining healthy fisheries and sequestering carbon will be launched next year.

We have quite a ways to go until we've protected 50 percent of planet Earth. The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Center and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature released a report last year that found about 15 percent of the world's land area has been protected so far, while a little more than 10 percent of coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction and just four percent of the global ocean are protected.

"Modern society has undervalued the vital role that nature plays in providing humanity with clean air and water, healthy food, and a stable climate—elements that are essential to sustaining life," Justin Winters, executive director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, said in a statement. "By creating a 'safety net' of protected and connected ecosystems around the planet we could avert a climate crisis and create a world where both nature and humanity co-exist and thrive."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
350 .org / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action

Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From

It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

A Ghanaian Chef Feeding His Country and Combating Food Waste

Ghanaian chef Elijah Amoo Addo is on a mission to feed his nation on the excesses the food industry creates. Since 2012, he has been collecting unwanted stock or food nearing its use-by date from suppliers, farmers and restaurants in Ghana to redistribute to orphanages, hospitals, schools and vulnerable communities through his not-for-profit organization Food for All Africa. They provide meals through a Share Your Breakfast program in addition to donating stock to be used later. The organization supports and encourages communities to farm and works with stakeholders within Ghana's food industry on ways to combat waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Tucuxi Amazon river dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis). Projeto Boto

Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins

By Claire Asher

Populations of two species of river dolphin in the Amazon are halving every decade, according to the results of a twenty-two year survey.

The Amazon rainforest is home to the Amazon river dolphin, or Boto (Inia geoffrensis) and the Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). But the results of a long-term study published in PLoS ONE show that both of these once abundant aquatic mammals are now in rapid decline in the Brazilian Amazon, likely due to hunting and fishing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy

'Historic First': Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

Keep reading... Show less
Business

Sustainable Fashion Innovator Makes Fiber From Pineapple Leaves

In 1960, 97 percent of the fibers used in clothing came from natural materials. Today that number has fallen to 35 percent. But sustainable fashion veteran Isaac Nichelson wants to reverse that trend.

His company, Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corp.), has developed an innovative technology for turning food waste into thread, according to a Fast Company profile published Friday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment on April 26. EPA / YouTube

Chair of Senate Environment Panel to Call Scott Pruitt to Testify on Scandals

The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.

Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Pexels

Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

By Shannan Lenke Stoll

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote Thursday. It's one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!