News and Notes

Half-Earth Project Science is Contributing to Saving Life on Earth

The science developed and in-part, funded by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is having a significant impact on our goal to preserve global biodiversity. High-quality science is critical, for example, to informing global initiatives like protecting 30% of land and seas by 2030 (30×30) on the way to Half-Earth, or the America The Beautiful Plan to protect biodiversity and address climate change in the US. The effort is led by our Scientific Chair, Walter Jetz, PhD, who is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, and a team of outstanding spatial ecologists, biologists, and researchers at the JetzLab Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, as well as independent researchers at leading conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Professor Jetz’s close collaborator, Scott Rinan, PhD, until recently was responsible for turning many of these findings into actionable data as the former lead of the Half-Earth Project Map.

Together, our science team has raised up years of research on area-based conservation and analysis, to help the foundation prioritize and promote solutions to the global extinction threat. They have published several critical papers whose research topics range from examining previously undiscovered biodiversity in cloud forests, mapping the world’s undocumented species, revealing problem areas in species identification, and anticipating species extinction due to urbanization and population growth, to establishing cutting-edge science to measure and monitor biodiversity protection and habitat intactness.

Furthermore, when appropriate and based on the evidence, scientists on our team have used their collective voice, to urge the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to use the best available science to support area-based conservation targets. The Half-Earth Project is leveraging our funded science to guide public policy that the future of all life on Earth may depend on.

This work is fulfilling a vision of the late E.O. Wilson (1929 – 2021) to pursue an evidence-based approach to achieving the goal of leaving no species behind, but also to inspire and inform decision-makers, world leaders, and the public to care for the web of life that sustains us all. What follows is a brief introduction to the recent science of the Half-Earth Project.


Biodiversity impacts and conservation implications of urban land expansion projected to 2050

Within the next 30 years, the global urban population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people, which will greatly increase urban spread. Much of this urban expansion is predicted to occur in biodiversity hotspots — areas rich with species that are at a high risk for destruction due to human activity — imperiling a wide variety of species, many of which are already threatened by extinction.

Expansion is projected to result in up to 1.53 million square kilometers of new urbanized land, directly threatening 855 species, according to the findings of a new Yale-led study published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study identified hotspot cities whose growth are predicted to have particularly large impacts on species habitats. Many of these cities are in equatorial regions where urban growth coincides with biodiverse habitats. The cities that pose the greatest threat to species due to expansion are predominantly located in the developing tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Mesoamerica, and Southeast Asia.

The results of the study and projected patterns of urban expansion and biodiversity impact can be found here.

Rohan D. Simkin, Karen C. Seto, Robert I. McDonald, Walter Jetz. Biodiversity impacts and conservation implications of urban land expansion projected to 2050. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (12) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2117297119.


Global geographical and latitudinal variation in butterfly species richness captured through a comprehensive country-level occurrence database.

Insects provide vital ecological functions and account for over half of all described species. An at least basic understanding of their geographical distributions is key for addressing a range of central ecological and evolutionary questions and to inform conservation. However, even for popular groups, such as butterflies, the knowledge of species’ distributions at global scale remains highly incomplete. To address this information gap, we present a data product of comprehensive country-level occurrences for the 19,327 accepted species of extant butterflies. This compilation is based on a quality-controlled combination of 165 literature sources and publicly available occurrence records from Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), harmonized to a global master taxonomy, and constitutes 159,659 (87,506 unique) species–country combinations.

Stefan Pinkert, Stefan & Barve, Vijay & Guralnick, Rob & Jetz, Walter. (2021). Global geographical and latitudinal variation in butterfly species richness captured through a comprehensive country-level occurrence database. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 10.1111/geb.13475.


Limited protection and ongoing loss of tropical cloud forest biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide. 

Tropical cloud forests exist in 60 countries but account for less than a half of 1% of all landmass on Earth. Yet they are home to 15% of the world’s known species, researchers estimate.

Despite enormous conservation efforts, including designation of vast areas of forest as protected areas, and their typically isolated location, as much as 8% of some forests have been lost in the past 20 years to environmental encroachments such as logging and small-scale farming, according to a new Yale-led study.

These encroachments severely threaten the survival of the nearly 2,000 species of mammals, amphibians, birds, and tree ferns that live exclusively in these forests, according to a paper published April 29 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“Tropical cloud forests are the terrestrial version of coral reefs. They harbor Earth’s greatest concentration of species diversity on land, over an already small and continually decreasing area,” said Yale’s Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of the environment, director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, and senior author of the paper.

Karger, Dirk Nikolaus & Kessler, Michael & Lehnert, Marcus & Jetz, Walter. (2021). Limited protection and ongoing loss of tropical cloud forest biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 5. 10.1038/s41559-021-01450-y. 


Shortfalls and opportunities in terrestrial vertebrate species discovery.

A new interactive map can predict where as-yet-undiscovered species might be found. Scientists analyzed 32,000 existing species to predict where we might find the next ones. Finding new species is the key to protecting them. Around 40% of the world’s economy is thought to be contingent on biodiversity.Humans have only discovered and described around 20% of the species on Earth. This means that as much as 80% of life has still to be found – and then protected for future generations. Now scientists have created an interactive map using existing species to predict where the next ones might be discovered.

Moura, Mario & Jetz, Walter. (2021). Shortfalls and opportunities in terrestrial vertebrate species discovery. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2021. 10.1038/s41559-021-01411-5.


Continental-scale 1 km hummingbird diversity derived from fusing point records with lateral and elevational expert information.

Biodiversity worldwide, particularly montane biodiversity, is increasingly impacted by human activities and climate change (Elsen et al. 2020). To better manage and conserve biodiversity, we need comprehensive estimates of species distributions. In this study in particular, we introduce a new data fusion approach which allows combining multiple sources of biodiversity information to improve our predictions on hummingbird species across the Americas.

Ellis Soto, Diego & Merow, Cory & Amatulli, Giuseppe & Parra, Juan & Jetz, Walter. (2021). Continental-scale 1 km hummingbird diversity derived from fusing point records with lateral and elevational expert information. Ecography. USDA 44. 10.1111/ecog.05119. 


Targeted, collaborative biodiversity conservation in the global ocean can benefit fisheries economies.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are key to averting continued loss of species and ecosystem services in our oceans, but concerns around economic trade-offs hamper progress. Here we provide optimized planning scenarios for global MPA networks that secure species habitat while minimizing impacts on fisheries revenues. We found that MPA coverage requirements differ vastly among nations, and that two-thirds of nations benefit economically from a collaborative approach. Immediate global protection of marine biodiversity habitat comes with losses of ~19% of total fisheries revenues, but international cooperation in concert with high seas protection improves economic losses for most countries, safeguards all species, and could save ~5B USD annually worldwide. Nations and fishery economies both share benefits from a coordinated approach to conserving marine biodiversity, with direct relevance to current international policies.

Scott Rinnan, Gabriel Reygondeau, Jennifer McGowan, Vicky Lam, Rashid Sumaila, Ajay Ranipeta, Kristin Kaschner, Cristina Garilao, William L. Cheung, Walter Jetz. (2021). Targeted, collaborative biodiversity conservation in the global ocean can benefit fisheries economies. bioRxiv 2021.04.23.441004; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.04.23.441004


Terrestrial conservation opportunities and inequities revealed by global multi-scale prioritization.

Area-based conservation through reserves or other measures is vital for preserving biodiversity and its functions for future generations, but its effective implementation suffers from a lack of both management-level detail and transparency around national responsibilities that might underpin cross-national support mechanisms. Here we implement a conservation prioritization framework that accounts for spatial data limitations yet offers actionable guidance at a 1km resolution. Our multi-scale linear optimization approach delineates globally the areas required to meet conservation targets for all ∼32,000 described terrestrial vertebrate species, while offering flexibility in decision management to meet different local conservation objectives. Roughly 48.5% of land is sufficient to meet conservation targets for all species, of which 60.2% is either already protected or has minimal human modification. However, human-modified areas need to be managed or restored in some form to ensure the long-term survival for over half of species. This burden of area-based conservation is distributed very unevenly among countries, and, without a process that explicitly addresses geopolitical inequity, requires disproportionately large commitments from poorer countries. Our analyses provide baseline information for a potential intergovernmental and stakeholder contribution mechanism in service of a globally shared goal of sustaining biodiversity. Future updates and extensions to this global priority map have the potential to guide local and national advocacy and actions with a data-driven approach to support global conservation outcomes.

Scott Rinnan, Walter Jetz. (2020).Terrestrial conservation opportunities and inequities revealed by global multi-scale prioritization doi: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.05.936047v1


Global and national trends in documenting and monitoring species distributions. 

Conserving and managing biodiversity in the face of ongoing global change requires sufficient evidence to assess status and trends of species distributions. Here, we propose novel indicators of biodiversity data coverage and sampling effectiveness and analyze national trajectories in closing spatiotemporal knowledge gaps for terrestrial vertebrates (1950 to 2019). Despite a rapid rise in data coverage, particularly in the last 2 decades, strong geographic and taxonomic biases persist. For some taxa and regions, a tremendous growth in records failed to directly translate into newfound knowledge due to a sharp decline in sampling effectiveness. However, we found that a nation’s coverage was stronger for species for which it holds greater stewardship. As countries under the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework renew their commitments to an improved, rigorous biodiversity knowledge base, our findings highlight opportunities for international collaboration to close critical information gaps.

Oliver, Ruth & Meyer, Carsten & Ranipeta, Ajay & Winner, Kevin & Jetz, Walter. (2020). Global and national trends in documenting and monitoring species distributions. bioRxiv 10.1101/2020.11.03.367011. 


Multi-scale planning helps resolve global conservation needs with regional priorities.

Area-based conservation through reserves or other measures is vital for preserving biodiversity and its functions for future generations, but its effective implementation suffers from a lack of both spatial detail necessary for management practices and transparency around national responsibilities that might underpin cross-national support mechanisms. Here we implement a conservation prioritization framework that accounts for spatial data limitations yet offers actionable guidance at a 1km resolution. Our multi-scale linear optimization approach delineates globally the areas required to meet area-based conservation targets for all ~32 000 described terrestrial vertebrate species, while offering flexibility in decision management to meet different local conservation objectives. Roughly 30.4% of land is sufficient to meet conservation targets for all species, of which 60.1% is either already protected or has minimal human modification. However, the remaining 39.9% of human-modified areas need to be managed or restored in some form to ensure the long-term survival for over half of species. This burden of area-based conservation is distributed very unevenly among countries, and, without a process that explicitly addresses geopolitical inequity, meeting species conservation targets would require disproportionately large commitments from poorer countries (i.e., lower GNI). Our analysis provides baseline information for a potential intergovernmental and stakeholder contribution mechanism in service of a globally shared goal of sustaining biodiversity. Future updates and extensions to this global priority map have the potential to guide local and national advocacy and actions with a data-driven approach to support global conservation outcomes.

Scott Rinnan, Yanina Sica, Ajay Ranipeta, John Wilshire, Walter Jetz. (2020). Multi-scale planning helps resolve global conservation needs with regional priorities. bioRxiv 2020.02.05.936047; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.05.936047.


We would like to thank and acknowledge all the authors supported by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, and who have contributed so much to the field of spatial ecology and conservation of species. We also thank our partners, Esri, and Vizzuality, and their team of designers and technologists who bring the data to life on the Half-Earth Project Map.

*For author affiliations see the individual study.

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