Science Snippet: The Loss of Wilderness


What’s happening to the planet’s wilderness areas? A new report suggests that our world has lost 10 percent of its wilderness areas in the past two decades. A general definition of “wilderness” is an area that remains biologically and ecologically intact and is mostly free of human disturbance. Measuring the planet’s remaining wilderness areas is a daunting task, but nine scientists painstakingly pieced together satellite imagery and other data to estimate the extent to which wilderness areas have disappeared. They found that in the past 20 years the Amazon has lost 30 percent of its wilderness while Central Africa lost 14 percent. Why is loss of wilderness important? First, these areas are strongholds of biodiversity, containing many endangered species. Second, they also store large amounts of carbon, produce oxygen, and directly influence local climate. The authors argue that efforts to protect wilderness are failing to keep pace with the rate of wilderness loss. (Watson et al, 2016, Current Biology, Sept. 8 issue; Nature, Sept. 15, 2016, p. 284)

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