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Conserv Biol. 2018 Feb;32(1):116-126. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12976. Epub 2017 Dec 6.

Gaps and opportunities for the World Heritage Convention to contribute to global wilderness conservation.

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School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD 4072, Australia.
WILD Foundation, 717 Poplar Avenue, Boulder, CO 80304, U.S.A.
World Commission on Protected Areas, IUCN Headquarters, Rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland, Switzerland.
Ecosystem Science and Management Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC V2N4M7, Canada.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland, Switzerland.
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Via Enrico Fermi 2749, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy.
United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (IUCN and UNEP-WCMC), 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK.
Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, Queeensland 4221, Australia.
Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Conservation Program, Bronx, NY 10460, U.S.A.


Wilderness areas are ecologically intact landscapes predominantly free of human uses, especially industrial-scale activities that result in substantial biophysical disturbance. This definition does not exclude land and resource use by local communities who depend on such areas for subsistence and bio-cultural connections. Wilderness areas are important for biodiversity conservation and sustain key ecological processes and ecosystem services that underpin planetary life-support systems. Despite these widely recognized benefits and values of wilderness, they are insufficiently protected and are consequently being rapidly eroded. There are increasing calls for multilateral environmental agreements to make a greater and more systematic contribution to wilderness conservation before it is too late. We created a global map of remaining terrestrial wilderness following the established last-of-the-wild method, which identifies the 10% of areas with the lowest human pressure within each of Earth's 62 biogeographic realms and identifies the 10 largest contiguous areas and all contiguous areas >10,000 km2 . We used our map to assess wilderness coverage by the World Heritage Convention and to identify gaps in coverage. We then identified large nationally designated protected areas with good wilderness coverage within these gaps. One-quarter of natural and mixed (i.e., sites of both natural and cultural value) World Heritage Sites (WHS) contained wilderness (total of 545,307 km2 ), which is approximately 1.8% of the world's wilderness extent. Many WHS had excellent wilderness coverage, for example, the Okavango Delta in Botswana (11,914 km2 ) and the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (16,029 km2 ). However, 22 (35%) of the world's terrestrial biorealms had no wilderness representation within WHS. We identified 840 protected areas of >500 km2 that were predominantly wilderness (>50% of their area) and represented 18 of the 22 missing biorealms. These areas offer a starting point for assessing the potential for the designation of new WHSs that could help increase wilderness representation on the World Heritage list. We urge the World Heritage Convention to ensure that the ecological integrity and outstanding universal value of existing WHS with wilderness values are preserved.


Natural World Heritage; Patrimonio Mundial Natural; biodiversity conservation; community conservation; conservación comunitaria; conservación de la biodiversidad; ecological integrity; ecosystem services; hábitat intacto; intact habitat; integridad ecológica; protected areas; servicios ambientales; áreas protegidas


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