Human pressure threatens many species and ecosystems, so conservation efforts necessarily prioritize saving them. However, conservation should clearly be proactive wherever possible. In this article, we assess the biodiversity conservation value, and specifically the irreplaceability in terms of species endemism, of those of the planet's ecosystems that remain intact. We find that 24 wilderness areas, all > or = 1 million hectares, are > or = 70% intact and have human densities of less than or equal to five people per km2. This wilderness covers 44% of all land but is inhabited by only 3% of people. Given this sparse population, wilderness conservation is cost-effective, especially if ecosystem service value is incorporated. Soberingly, however, most wilderness is not speciose: only 18% of plants and 10% of terrestrial vertebrates are endemic to individual wildernesses, the majority restricted to Amazonia, Congo, New Guinea, the Miombo-Mopane woodlands, and the North American deserts. Global conservation strategy must target these five wildernesses while continuing to prioritize threatened biodiversity hotspots.
Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., Brooks, T. M., Pilgrim, J. D., Konstant, W. R., da Fonseca, G. A. B., & Kormos, C. (2003). Wilderness and biodiversity conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(18), 10309–10313. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1732458100