Global analysis finds a large portion of the earth is still wilderness

August 18, 2003, Washington, DC According to the most comprehensive global analysis of its kind ever conducted, wilderness still covers a large portion of the Earth's land surface and contains only a tiny percentage of the world's population but, surprisingly, only five wilderness areas hold globally significant levels of biodiversity. More than 200 international scientists contributed to the analysis, which is featured in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study will appear in the September 2nd print edition.

The 24 wilderness areas identified by the analysis represent 44 percent of the Earth's land surface, but are occupied by just 3 percent of the world's population. Five of the wilderness areas fall, at least in part, within the United States, with the North American Desert complex (including northern Mexico) being one of just five "high biodiversity wilderness areas" globally that are high priorities for conservation attention. Only 7 percent of the wilderness areas enjoy any form of protection. Meanwhile, they face threats such as destructive agricultural practices, unsustainable hunting, invasive species, and resource extraction activities like industrial-scale logging and mining.

"Sixteen of the wilderness areas have roughly equal to or less than one person per square kilometer, and a human population of only 43 million, representing an area equivalent to the six largest countries on Earth combined, but with the human population of only three big cities," said lead author Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International. "The good news is that we still have these large tracts of land largely intact and uninhabited, but they are increasingly under threat" he warned.

Only five wilderness areas are considered "high-biodiversity wilderness areas" because they contain at least 1,500 endemic vascular plant species, the same criterion used for defining 'biodiversity hotspots.' The

Contact: Brad Phillips
Conservation International

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