Story at a glance:

  • A ballpark estimate shows that 3 percent of the world is untouched by humans.
    • Invasive species have also had an effect on habitats, particularly in Australia.
    • Scientists previously believed between 20 and 40 percent of the Earth’s surface was less affected by humans. But recent research found it only appeared that way from above in satellite images. 

A new study found that just 3 percent of the world's land is ecologically intact, meaning most of the Earth's wilderness is dwindling and damaged as human activity expands into the natural world, The Guardian reported.

The surviving fragments of the world, untouched by man, include parts of the Amazon and Congo tropical forests, east Siberian and northern Canadian forests and tundra, and the Sahara. 

Scientists previously estimated that 20 to 40 percent of the Earth’s surface was left primarily unaffected by humans, according to The Guardian. But this recent study is challenging that. Scientists now say that forests, savannah and tundra may appear intact from above in satellite pictures; but on the ground and in reality, vital species are missing. 


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Wolves, for example, control populations of deer and elk; and elephants spread seeds and create clearings in the forest, The Guardian writes. 

“Much of what we consider as intact habitat is missing species that have been hunted [and poached] by people, or lost because of invasive species or disease,” Andrew Plumptre, the lead author of the study and the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat in Cambridge, said. “It’s fairly scary, because it shows how unique places like the Serengeti are, which actually have functioning and fully intact ecosystems."

Plumptre said the 3 percent number was a “ballpark estimate,” but noted that the world is in trouble and scientists should make it their priority in highlighting specific areas.

In January, more than 50 countries pledged to protect about a third of the planet by 2030 to halt the natural world's destruction, The Guardian reported.

“Putting efforts into conserving these [intact] places is very important,” Plumptre said. “They are so rare and special, and show what the world was like before humans had any major impact, helping us measure how much we’ve lost.”


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Published on Apr 15, 2021