In a new study carried out by the Nature Map Consortium, experts set out to identify the most important areas worldwide where nature conservation could simultaneously protect the greatest number of species from extinction, preserve terrestrial carbon stocks, and safeguard freshwater resources.
The researchers determined that conserving a strategically placed 30 percent of land could protect 70 percent of terrestrial plant and animal species, as well as 68 percent of all clean water. The proposed plan would also help to prevent the release of more than 62 percent of the world’s vulnerable carbon stocks.
According to the experts, the solution is the first of its kind to truly integrate biodiversity, carbon, and water conservation within a common approach and a single global priority map.
“To implement post-2020 biodiversity strategies such as the Global Biodiversity Framework, policymakers and governments need clarity on where resources and conservation management could bring the greatest potential benefits to biodiversity. At the same time, biodiversity should not be looked at in isolation,” explained study lead author Martin Jung of the IIASA Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group.
“Other aspects such as conserving carbon stocks within natural ecosystems should be considered alongside biodiversity, so that synergies and trade-offs can be evaluated when pursuing multiple objectives.”
Study co-author Piero Visconti said the new global priority maps developed as part of the study show that when it comes to identifying new areas to manage for nature conservation, such as protected areas or community-managed forests, quality is more important than quantity.
“To aim for quality of conservation and achieve the goal of safeguarding biodiversity, government and non-government agencies should be setting objectives and indicators for what they want: conserving species, healthy ecosystems and their services to people, and identify areas to conserve accordingly,” said Visconti. “Our study provides guidance on how to do that.”
According to study co-author Guido Schmidt-Traub, maps for integrated spatial planning are necessary for meeting climate and biodiversity objectives. “They are also critical for financing natural climate solutions, improving carbon markets, and greening supply chains.”
The research has quantitatively confirmed many areas as being biodiversity hotspots, and has also identified new areas to be considered as important for biodiversity at a global scale, including the southeastern United States and the Balkans.
“Our methods, data, and the global priority maps are meant to be used as a decision support tool for major conservation initiatives,” said Jung. “Furthermore, the study lays the groundwork for a new generation of integrated prioritizations and planning exercises that all actors can use to inform conservation choices at the regional, national and sub-national levels.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.