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Retaining natural vegetation to safeguard biodiversity and humanity


Simmonds, Jeremy et al. (2023), Retaining natural vegetation to safeguard biodiversity and humanity, Dryad, Dataset,


Humanity is on a pathway of unsustainable loss of the natural systems upon which we, and all life, rely. To date, global efforts to deliver internationally-agreed goals to reduce carbon emissions, halt biodiversity loss, and retain essential ecosystem services, have been poorly integrated. All these goals rely in part on preserving natural (e.g. native, largely unmodified) and semi-natural (e.g. under some form of low-intensity/sustainable human use) forests, woodlands and grasslands. Here, we show how to unify these goals by empirically deriving spatially explicit, quantitative area-based targets for the retention of natural and semi-natural (e.g. native) terrestrial vegetation. We found that at least 67 million km2 of Earth's terrestrial vegetation (∼79% of the area of vegetation remaining) requires retention – via sustainable and appropriate land use and management – to contribute to biodiversity, climate, soil and freshwater objectives under four United Nations Resolutions. This equates to retaining natural and semi-natural vegetation across at least 50% of the total terrestrial (excluding Antarctica) surface of Earth. Our results show where retention efforts could contribute to multiple goals simultaneously. Such management can and should co-occur alongside and be driven by the people who live in and rely on places where natural and sustainably managed vegetation remains in situ, and must be complemented by restoration and appropriate management of more human-modified environments, if global goals are to be realised.


The data in this repository were produced for a global spatial analysis of where and how much terrestrial ecosystems need to be retained on Earth to achieve multiple nature conservation and ecosystem service goals. First, publicly-available (or available on request) datasets representing key sites for the achievement of four environmental 'targets' (biodiversity, carbon, soil and freshwater) were overlaid on a map of remaining terrestrial ecosystems (see associated article for definitions and input data). This was done to determine the extent and location of terrestrial ecosystems that need retention to contribute to these respective targets' achievement. This spatial analysis allowed for the production of four terrestrial ecosystem retention maps, which, when overlaid on one another, allowed for the calculation of the total amount of terrestrial ecosystem retention required to synergistically help achieve all four targets. From this overlay map, the amount of terrestrial ecosystem retention by country was also calculated. This study highlights that much of the world's remaining terrestrial ecosystems need to be retained – kept in-situ – through protection and sustainable use, if global environmental objectives are to be achieved.

All of the datasets used to produce the four terrestrial ecosystem retention maps are publicly available or can be sourced upon request (see associated article for specific details).

The key results presented in the above mentioned manuscript were derived from quantifying the area of ecosystem retention (using geospatial analytical software), and mapping the location of ecosystem retention, for the four broad environmental imperatives.

Usage notes

The ArcGIS rasters available in this repository represent terrestrial ecosystems (see above mentioned manuscript for definitions and input data) that need to be retained to contribute, respectively, to global environmental targets for biodiversity, carbon, soil and freshwater. A raster map produced by overlapping all four rasters is also provided. The vector map of jurisdictional boundaries was used to extract retention extent by nation.