Intact Forests Science

Intact ecosystems have been a focus for WCS science for many years, but the work has been given new urgency by the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Work on intactness also includes closely related concepts such as wilderness areas and primary forests.

We have a very active partnership on many research topics with the University of Queensland. Other recent partners include University of Maryland, University of Oxford, World Resources Institute, Center for Carbon Removal, Forest Trends, WWF and many others.

In June 2018, WCS and the University of Oxford co-hosted the conference Intact Forests in the 21st Century. The conference led to a declaration, signed by many participants.

Studies with a Global Scope

The Value of Intact Forests

In early 2018, 28 authors wrote a state-of-the-art review of the literature on why intact forests are so precious and how they might be protected. [Watson et al. 2018]

The Climate Case for Protecting Intact Forests

We are working to quantify the climate importance of the most intact tropical forest landscapes, areas often overlooked as targets for climate funding. We hope this work will be ready for the global climate conference in Poland, December 2018. In Progress.

Where Intact Forests Are Located

The global map of Intact Forest Landscapes was recently updated as part of an ongoing, collaborative process.

WCS has pioneered the ‘Human Footprint’, a global measure of human pressure on nature across all ecosystems, which allows intact areas to be identified. Key papers were released in 2002 [Sanderson et al. 2002] and 2016 [Venter et al. 2016].

The Human Footprint was used to demonstrate catastrophic rates of loss in the world’s main wilderness areas. [Watson et al. 2016]

Monitoring Intactness for Policy Outcomes

WCS is leading a broad team to develop the world’s first globally applicable metric of intactness specific to forests, enabling people to visualize the patterns and trends of forest degradation in unprecedented detail. In Progress.

Threats to Intact Forests

We have compared global maps of mineral, oil and gas exploration licenses to intact forest landscapes to highlight the vast area at risk from future developments. [Grantham and Tibsldeschi 2018]

We co-authored a recent review of the impacts of timber extraction on the values of intact forest, written for the 2018 Oslo Tropical Forest Forum.

WCS scientists have a long history of studying the problem of over-hunting and the effects of defaunation on ecological intactness. [Redford 1992] [Wilkie et al. 2011]

Climate Adaptation

WCS has authored and co-authored a number of papers exploring the relationship between intactness and climate resilience. [Watson et al. 2013] [Martin and Watson 2013]

Protected areas are a key method for saving intact forests and WCS has a long institutional history of work on them. Recently, we co-authored a key global review and studies of the pressures faced by protected areas and World Heritage Sites. [Jones et al. 2018] [Allan et al. 2017]

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Management by Indigenous Peoples is another pathway to conserving intact forests. A recent study estimating the global extent of indigenous lands is an important assessment, as is a supplementary study overlaying these lands on intact forest landscape.

In addition, WCS has long worked with communities inhabiting intact ecosystem.

Policy Options

Primary forests (and by extension, intact forests) are largely absent from international policy frameworks.

The Convention on Biological Diversity includes shared global targets which will be revised in 2020. WCS is active in this debate and is calling for an overarching global ‘retention target’ for nature, including a sub-target relating to intact forests. [Watson et al. 2017] [Maron et al. 2018]

We are collaborating with WWF and many other organizations to write a paper proposing policy options for intact areas under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, using the term ‘stable forests’. In Progress.

Regional Studies from Africa

This intact forests science generated in Central Africa is an example of the locally tailored science we produce worldwide to inform conservation decisions.

In Central Africa, we often study intactness through the lens of keystone wildlife populations. That includes mammal populations in relation to different management systems in northern Congo. Also, the regional status of elephants and great apes and their dependence on the most remote and intact forest area. [Maisels et al. 2013] [Strindberg et al. 2017]

Recent studies have also highlighted the clustering of communities of Indigenous Peoples in remote, intact forests in this region. [Olivero et al. 2016]

WCS is involved in research on the status of the forests themselves, too, including on the vast peat swamp forests.

Two other exciting pieces of forest ecology are assessing the optimal layout of forest set asides for carbon and biodiversity in northern Congo and testing regional forest intactness metrics to inform the work of the Forest Stewardship Council. In Progress.

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