How to protect half of Earth to ensure it protects sufficient biodiversity.

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It is theoretically possible to protect large fractions of species in relatively small regions. For plants, 85% of species occur entirely within just over a third of the Earth's land surface, carefully optimized to maximize the species captured. Well-known vertebrate taxa show similar patterns. Protecting half of Earth might not be necessary, but would it be sufficient given the current trends of protection? The predilection of national governments is to protect areas that are "wild," that is, typically remote, cold, or arid. Unfortunately, those areas often hold relatively few species. Wild places likely afford the easier opportunities for the future expansion of protected areas, with the expansion into human-dominated landscapes the greater challenge. We identify regions that are not currently protected, but that are wild, and consider which of them hold substantial numbers of especially small-ranged vertebrate species. We assess how successful the strategy of protecting the wilder half of Earth might be in conserving biodiversity. It is far from sufficient. (Protecting large wild places for reasons other than biodiversity protection, such as carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services, might still have importance.) Unexpectedly, we also show that, despite the bias in establishing large protected areas in wild places to date, numerous small protected areas are in biodiverse places. They at least partially protect significant fractions of especially small-ranged species. So, while a preoccupation with protecting large areas for the sake of getting half of Earth might achieve little for biodiversity, there is more progress in protecting high-biodiversity areas than currently appreciated. Continuing to prioritize the right parts of Earth, not just the total area protected, is what matters for biodiversity.





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Pimm, Stuart L, Clinton N Jenkins and Binbin V Li (2018). How to protect half of Earth to ensure it protects sufficient biodiversity. Science advances, 4(8). p. eaat2616. 10.1126/sciadv.aat2616 Retrieved from

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Binbin Li

Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Duke Kunshan University

Dr. Binbin Li is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences of the Environmental Research Center at Duke Kunshan University. She holds a secondary appointment with Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Her research focuses on loss of biodiversity, endangered and endemic species conservation such as giant pandas, priority setting and management of protected areas, and promotion of innovative technology, markets and policies to solve conservation problems and local community development. Dr. Li got her PhD in Environment from Duke University (2017), M.S in Natural Resources and Environment from University of Michigan (2012). and B.S in Life Sciences with a dual degree in Economics from Peking University (2010).

Dr. Li’s work covers the identification of conservation priorities and national parks in China, impacts of One Belt One Road on biodiversity, giant panda conservation and management via Footprint Identification Technique (FIT), impacts of oil palm and rubber plantations on biodiversity in Southeast Asia, influence of national environmental policies on human-wildlife conflicts, and behavioral study of endemic species. She is also a member of the IUCN SSC Small Mammal Specialist Group.

Dr. Li is engaged in science communication and nature education. She is a signed nature photographer at Swild in China. During 2013-2015, she served as a science advisor for Disney nature documentary “Born in China”. She is devoted in using photography, social media, drama, and other art formats to promote conservation science in the public.

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