Research ArticleCONSERVATION BIOLOGY

The last frontiers of wilderness: Tracking loss of intact forest landscapes from 2000 to 2013

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Science Advances  13 Jan 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 1, e1600821
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600821

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Abstract

An intact forest landscape (IFL) is a seamless mosaic of forest and naturally treeless ecosystems with no remotely detected signs of human activity and a minimum area of 500 km2. IFLs are critical for stabilizing terrestrial carbon storage, harboring biodiversity, regulating hydrological regimes, and providing other ecosystem functions. Although the remaining IFLs comprise only 20% of tropical forest area, they account for 40% of the total aboveground tropical forest carbon. We show that global IFL extent has been reduced by 7.2% since the year 2000. An increasing rate of global IFL area reduction was found, largely driven by the tripling of IFL tropical forest loss in 2011–2013 compared to that in 2001–2003. Industrial logging, agricultural expansion, fire, and mining/resource extraction were the primary causes of IFL area reduction. Protected areas (International Union for Conservation of Nature categories I to III) were found to have a positive effect in slowing the reduction of IFL area from timber harvesting but were less effective in limiting agricultural expansion. The certification of logging concessions under responsible management had a negligible impact on slowing IFL fragmentation in the Congo Basin. Fragmentation of IFLs by logging and establishment of roads and other infrastructure initiates a cascade of changes that lead to landscape transformation and loss of conservation values. Given that only 12% of the global IFL area is protected, our results illustrate the need for planning and investment in carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation efforts that target the most valuable remaining forests, as identified using the IFL approach.

Keywords
  • Wildlands
  • forest
  • biodiversity
  • carbon storage
  • intactness
  • ecosystem services
  • remote sensing
  • intact forest landscapes

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