WCS and science partners have produced the first measure of ecological integrity for all the world’s forests, the Forest Landscape Integrity Index. The accompanying study, published in Nature Communications, reveals that, globally, only 40 percent of forests are considered to have high integrity.

This research brought together 47 forest and conservation experts from across the world and is a result of rapid advances in remote sensing, big data, and cloud computing. The index is publicly available, will be updated each year, and allows users both to analyze global patterns and to hone in on local areas. It will make the condition of the world’s remaining forests visible to everyone for the first time, and support targeted action to conserve, manage and restore them.

The study emphasizes that deforestation is not the only threat to forests. Many remaining forests have been heavily impacted by human activities contributing to degradation, including logging, fires, hunting, wildlife exploitation, and edge effects. These actions damage the ecological integrity of forests, reducing the benefits they provide and making them less resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Forests with high integrity can help slow the pace of climate change, preserve biodiversity, protect the livelihoods and cultures of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and prevent future pandemics. However, the study shows that only 17.4 million square kilometers (6.7 million square miles) of Earth’s remaining forests (40 percent) are considered to have high integrity, and only 27 percent of this area is found in nationally-designated protected areas.

Dr. Hedley Grantham, lead author of the study and WCS’s Director of Conservation Planning, said: “The results of this study are fundamental to current discussions underway in relation to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The current draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework wisely proposes targets relating to ecosystem integrity and there has been active discussion about how this can be quantified and monitored. Using this index, we can now set ambitious policy goals to improve the integrity of forests globally.”

Professor James Watson, Director of WCS’ Science and Research Initiative and the University of Queensland, noted: “The use of this index is critical in allowing us to locate Earth’s remaining intact forests and ensure that they are better protected. We show how critical some countries are, including Canada, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Papua New Guinea, in sustaining the world’s last large intact forests. The fine-scale nature of the map will also allow land managers to plan activities more effectively and to monitor change over time.”

The study is published in Nature Communications and the index can be accessed at forestlandscapeintegrity.com.

Research for this paper was funded in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Trillion Trees, and UKAID from the UK Government via the Forest Governance, Markets and Climate Programme.

WCS is a member of Forests for Life (FFL), a partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation, United Nations Development Programme, World Resources Institute and Rainforest Foundation Norway. Working with national governments, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and others, FFL has two aims – to place ecological integrity at the heart of managing and conserving the world’s forests and to halt and reverse declines in integrity across 1 billion hectares of the most intact forests worldwide.

WCS is a proud partner of the Trillion Trees joint venture, a collaboration with Birdlife International, WCS and WWF, founded on a joint vision for a world where tree cover is expanding not shrinking. For more information, please visit www.trilliontrees.org.