We assess progress toward the protection of 50% of the terrestrial biosphere to address the species-extinction crisis and conserve a global ecological heritage for future generations. Using a map of Earth’s 846 terrestrial ecoregions, we show that 98 ecoregions (12%) exceed Half Protected; 313 ecoregions (37%) fall short of Half Protected but have sufficient unaltered habitat remaining to reach the target; and 207 ecoregions (24%) are in peril, where an average of only 4% of natural habitat remains. We propose a Global Deal for Nature-a companion to the Paris Climate Deal-to promote increased habitat protection and restoration, national- and ecoregion-scale conservation strategies, and the empowerment of indigenous peoples to protect their sovereign lands. The goal of such an accord would be to protect half the terrestrial realm by 2050 to halt the extinction crisis while sustaining human livelihoods.
For the first time in the Anthropocene, the global demographic and economic trends that have resulted in unprecedented destruction of the environment are now creating the necessary conditions for a possible renaissance of nature. Drawing reasonable inferences from current patterns, we can predict that 100 years from now, the Earth could be inhabited by between 6 and 8 billion people, with very few remaining in extreme poverty, most living in towns and cities, and nearly all participating in a technologically driven, interconnected market economy. Building on the scholarship of others in demography, economics, sociology, and conservation biology, here, we articulate a theory of social-environmental change that describes the simultaneous and interacting effects of urban lifestyles on fertility, poverty alleviation, and ideation. By recognizing the shifting dynamics of these macrodrivers, conservation practice has the potential to transform itself from a discipline managing declines (“bottleneck”) to a transformative movement of recovery (“breakthrough”).
Designated large-scale marine protected areas (LSMPAs, 100,000 or more square kilometers) constitute over two-thirds of the approximately 6.6% of the ocean and approximately 14.5% of the exclusive economic zones within marine protected areas. Although LSMPAs have received support among scientists and conservation bodies for wilderness protection, regional ecological connectivity, and improving resilience to climate change, there are also concerns. We identified 10 common criticisms of LSMPAs along three themes: (1) placement, governance, and management; (2) political expediency; and (3) social-ecological value and cost. Through critical evaluation of scientific evidence, we discuss the value, achievements, challenges, and potential of LSMPAs in these arenas. We conclude that although some criticisms are valid and need addressing, none pertain exclusively to LSMPAs, and many involve challenges ubiquitous in management. We argue that LSMPAs are an important component of a diversified management portfolio that tempers potential losses, hedges against uncertainty, and enhances the probability of achieving sustainably managed oceans.
Efforts to conserve biodiversity comprise a patchwork of international goals, national-level plans, and local interventions that, overall, are failing. We discuss the potential utility of applying the mitigation hierarchy, widely used during economic development activities, to all negative human impacts on biodiversity. Evaluating all biodiversity losses and gains through the mitigation hierarchy could help prioritize consideration of conservation goals and drive the empirical evaluation of conservation investments through the explicit consideration of counterfactual trends and ecosystem dynamics across scales. We explore the challenges in using this framework to achieve global conservation goals, including operationalization and monitoring and compliance, and we discuss solutions and research priorities. The mitigation hierarchy’s conceptual power and ability to clarify thinking could provide the step change needed to integrate the multiple elements of conservation goals and interventions in order to achieve successful biodiversity outcomes.
The scale and magnitude of complex and pressing environmental issues lend urgency to the need for integrative and reproducible analysis and synthesis, facilitated by data-intensive research approaches. However, the recent pace of technological change has been such that appropriate skills to accomplish data-intensive research are lacking among environmental scientists, who more than ever need greater access to training and mentorship in computational skills. Here, we provide a roadmap for raising data competencies of current and next-generation environmental researchers by describing the concepts and skills needed for effectively engaging with the heterogeneous, distributed, and rapidly growing volumes of available data. We articulate five key skills: (1) data management and processing, (2) analysis, (3) software skills for science, (4) visualization, and (5) communication methods for collaboration and dissemination. We provide an overview of the current suite of training initiatives available to environmental scientists and models for closing the skill-transfer gap.
Citizen science involves a range of practices involving public participation in scientific knowledge production, but outcomes evaluation is complicated by the diversity of the goals and forms of citizen science. Publications and citations are not adequate metrics to describe citizen-science productivity. We address this gap by contributing a science products inventory (SPI) tool, iteratively developed through an expert panel and case studies, intended to support general-purpose planning and evaluation of citizen-science projects with respect to science productivity. The SPI includes a collection of items for tracking the production of science outputs and data practices, which are described and illustrated with examples. Several opportunities for further development of the initial inventory are highlighted, as well as potential for using the inventory as a tool to guide project management, funding, and research on citizen science.
One of the desired outcomes of dam decommissioning and removal is the recovery of aquatic and riparian ecosystems. To investigate this common objective, we synthesized information from empirical studies and ecological theory into conceptual models that depict key physical and biological links driving ecological responses to removing dams. We define models for three distinct spatial domains: upstream of the former reservoir, within the reservoir, and downstream of the removed dam. Emerging from these models are response trajectories that clarify potential pathways of ecological transitions in each domain. We illustrate that the responses are controlled by multiple causal pathways and feedback loops among physical and biological components of the ecosystem, creating recovery trajectories that are dynamic and nonlinear. In most cases, short-term effects are typically followed by longer-term responses that bring ecosystems to new and frequently predictable ecological condition, which may or may not be similar to what existed prior to impoundment.
As an indicator of sustainable development, the ecological footprint has been successful in providing a basis for discussing the environmental impacts of human consumption. Humans are at the origin of numerous pollutant activities on Earth and are the primary drivers of climate change. However, very little research has been conducted on the environmental impacts of animals, especially companion animals. Often regarded as friends or family members by their owners, companion animals need significant amounts of food in order to sustain their daily energy requirement. The ecological paw print (EPP) could therefore serve as a useful indicator for assessing the impacts of companion animals on the environment. In the present article, we explain the environmental impact of companion dogs and cats by quantifying their dietary EPP and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to primary data we collected in China, the Netherlands, and Japan and discuss how to reduce companion dietary EPP and GHG emissions in order to understand the sustainability of the relationship between companion animals and the environment.
Resilience has become a common goal for science-based natural resource management, particularly in the context of changing climate and disturbance regimes. Integrating varying perspectives and definitions of resilience is a complex and often unrecognized challenge to applying resilience concepts to social-ecological systems (SESs) management. Using wildfire as an example, we develop a framework to expose and separate two important dimensions of resilience: the inherent properties that maintain structure, function, or states of an SES and the human perceptions of desirable or valued components of an SES. In doing so, the framework distinguishes between value-free and human-derived, value-explicit dimensions of resilience. Four archetypal scenarios highlight that ecological resilience and human values do not always align and that recognizing and anticipating potential misalignment is critical for developing effective management goals. Our framework clarifies existing resilience theory, connects literature across disciplines, and facilitates use of the resilience concept in research and land-management applications.
Mentored research is critical for integrating undergraduates into the scientific community. Undergraduate researchers experience a variety of mentoring structures, including dyads (i.e., direct mentorship by faculty) and triads (i.e., mentorship by graduate or postdoctoral researchers [postgraduates] and faculty). Social capital theory suggests that these structures may offer different resources that differentially benefit undergraduates. To test this, we collected data from a national sample of more than 1,000 undergraduate life science researchers and used structural equation modeling to identify relationships between mentoring structures and indicators of integration into the scientific community. Undergraduates in dyads and triads with direct faculty interactions reported similar levels of science self-efficacy, scientific identity, and scholarly productivity, and higher levels of these outcomes than students in triads lacking faculty interactions. Undergraduates' career intentions were unrelated to their mentoring structure, and their gains in thinking and working like scientists were higher if they interacted with both postgraduates and faculty.