Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Wilderness


An intact forest landscape (IFL) is a seamless mosaic of forest and naturally treeless ecosystems with no remotely detected signs of human activity and a minimum area of 500 km(2). IFLs are critical for stabilizing terrestrial carbon storage, harboring biodiversity, regulating hydrological regimes, and providing other ecosystem functions. Although the remaining IFLs comprise only 20% of tropical forest area, they account for 40% of the total aboveground tropical forest carbon. We show that global IFL extent has been reduced by 7.2% since the year 2000. An increasing rate of global IFL area reduction was found, largely driven by the tripling of IFL tropical forest loss in 2011-2013 compared to that in 2001-2003. Industrial logging, agricultural expansion, fire, and mining/resource extraction were the primary causes of IFL area reduction. Protected areas (International Union for Conservation of Nature categories I to III) were found to have a positive effect in slowing the reduction of IFL area from timber harvesting but were less effective in limiting agricultural expansion. The certification of logging concessions under responsible management had a negligible impact on slowing IFL fragmentation in the Congo Basin. Fragmentation of IFLs by logging and establishment of roads and other infrastructure initiates a cascade of changes that lead to landscape transformation and loss of conservation values. Given that only 12% of the global IFL area is protected, our results illustrate the need for planning and investment in carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation efforts that target the most valuable remaining forests, as identified using the IFL approach.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Ecosystem, Forest, Wilderness, Forests, Intact forest landscape


Humans have altered terrestrial ecosystems for millennia [1], yet wilderness areas still remain as vital refugia where natural ecological and evolutionary processes operate with minimal human disturbance [2-4], underpinning key regional- and planetary-scale functions [5, 6]. Despite the myriad values of wilderness areas-as critical strongholds for endangered biodiversity [7], for carbon storage and sequestration [8], for buffering and regulating local climates [9], and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalized communities [10]-they are almost entirely ignored in multilateral environmental agreements. This is because they are assumed to be relatively free from threatening processes and therefore are not a priority for conservation efforts [11, 12]. Here we challenge this assertion using new comparable maps of global wilderness following methods established in the original “last of the wild” analysis [13] to examine the change in extent since the early 1990s. We demonstrate alarming losses comprising one-tenth (3.3 million km(2)) of global wilderness areas over the last two decades, particularly in the Amazon (30%) and central Africa (14%). We assess increases in the protection of wilderness over the same time frame and show that these efforts are failing to keep pace with the rate of wilderness loss, which is nearly double the rate of protection. Our findings underscore an immediate need for international policies to recognize the vital values of wilderness and the unprecedented threats they face and to underscore urgent large-scale, multifaceted actions needed to maintain them.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Ecology, Natural environment, Nature, Conservation movement, Wilderness, Deforestation


Wilderness areas, defined as areas free of industrial scale activities and other human pressures which result in significant biophysical disturbance, are important for biodiversity conservation and sustaining the key ecological processes underpinning planetary life-support systems. Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being rapidly eroded in extent and fragmented. Here we present the most up-to-date temporally inter-comparable maps of global terrestrial wilderness areas, which are essential for monitoring changes in their extent, and for proactively planning conservation interventions to ensure their preservation. Using maps of human pressure on the natural environment for 1993 and 2009, we identified wilderness as all ‘pressure free’ lands with a contiguous area >10,000 km2. These places are likely operating in a natural state and represent the most intact habitats globally. We then created a regionally representative map of wilderness following the well-established ‘Last of the Wild’ methodology; which identifies the 10% area with the lowest human pressure within each of Earth’s 60 biogeographic realms, and identifies the ten largest contiguous areas, along with all contiguous areas >10,000 km2.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Ecology, Geography, Natural environment, Nature, Conservation movement, Wilderness


The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the area where houses and wildland vegetation meet or intermingle, and where wildfire problems are most pronounced. Here we report that the WUI in the United States grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010 in terms of both number of new houses (from 30.8 to 43.4 million; 41% growth) and land area (from 581,000 to 770,000 km2; 33% growth), making it the fastest-growing land use type in the conterminous United States. The vast majority of new WUI areas were the result of new housing (97%), not related to an increase in wildland vegetation. Within the perimeter of recent wildfires (1990-2015), there were 286,000 houses in 2010, compared with 177,000 in 1990. Furthermore, WUI growth often results in more wildfire ignitions, putting more lives and houses at risk. Wildfire problems will not abate if recent housing growth trends continue.

Concepts: United States, Poverty in the United States, Vegetation, New York City, Yellowstone National Park, Wilderness, Wildfire, Wildland-urban interface


Land use and related pressures have reduced local terrestrial biodiversity, but it is unclear how the magnitude of change relates to the recently proposed planetary boundary (“safe limit”). We estimate that land use and related pressures have already reduced local biodiversity intactness–the average proportion of natural biodiversity remaining in local ecosystems–beyond its recently proposed planetary boundary across 58.1% of the world’s land surface, where 71.4% of the human population live. Biodiversity intactness within most biomes (especially grassland biomes), most biodiversity hotspots, and even some wilderness areas is inferred to be beyond the boundary. Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Natural environment, Europe, Nature, Sustainability, Wilderness


This paper investigates potential mental health benefits of outdoor and adventure education programs. It is argued that experiences made in successful programs can increase self-efficacy, mindfulness and subjective well-being. Furthermore, programs may reduce feelings of time pressure and mental stress amongst participants. Evidence comes from two pilot studies: In the school project “Crossing the Alps” (Study 1), 14-year-old participants reported an increase in life satisfaction, mindfulness and a decrease in the PSQ Subscale ‘demand’ after a successful nine-day hike through the German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. In the university project “Friluftsliv” (Study 2) participants scored higher in life satisfaction, happiness, mindfulness, and self-efficacy and lower in perceived stress after having spent eight days in the wilderness of the Norwegian Hardangervidda region, miles away from the next locality. The findings suggest that outdoor education and wilderness programs can foster mental health in youths and young adults.

Concepts: Positive psychology, Austria, Wilderness, WILD Foundation, Adventure, National Outdoor Leadership School


It is not clear whether a worldwide “forest transition” to net reforestation will ever occur, and the need to address the main driver-agriculture-is compelling. We present a mathematical model of land use dynamics based on the world food equation that explains historical trends in global land use on the millennial scale. The model predicts that a global forest transition only occurs under a small and very specific range of parameter values (and hence seems unlikely) but if it does occur, it would have to occur within the next 70 years. In our baseline scenario, global forest cover continues to decline until it stabilizes within the next two centuries at 22% of global land cover, and wild pasture at 1.4%. Under other scenarios the model predicts unanticipated dynamics wherein a forest transition may relapse, heralding a second era of deforestation; this brings into question national-level forest transitions observed in recent decades, and suggests we need to expand our lexicon of possibilities beyond the simple “forest transition/no forest transition” dichotomy. This research also underscores that the challenge of feeding a growing population while conserving natural habitat will likely continue for decades to come.

Concepts: Habitat, Mathematics, Natural resource, Das Model, Parameter, Land use, Wilderness, Deforestation


We present a case of a 57-year-old man who fell while climbing a mountain in California and sustained severe facial trauma. Three firefighters and 2 emergency physicians witnessed the fall and resuscitated the patient. The patient ultimately required a surgical cricothyrotomy performed with a pocket knife and Platypus hydration pack. The physicians made a makeshift positive pressure airway device using the Platypus hydration pack. We believe this is the first case report describing an improvised cricothyrotomy performed in the wilderness using only hiking gear. This report also discusses indications for cricothyrotomy, the challenges of resuscitation in a low-resource environment, and special considerations in a high-altitude setting.

Concepts: Patient, Hospital, Natural environment, Physician, Conservation movement, Fall, Wilderness, Hiking equipment


The Mosquitia ecosystem of Honduras occupies the fulcrum between the American continents and as such constitutes a critical region for understanding past patterns of socio-political development and interaction. Heavy vegetation, rugged topography, and remoteness have limited scientific investigation. This paper presents prehistoric patterns of settlement and landuse for a critical valley within the Mosquitia derived from airborne LiDAR scanning and field investigation. We show that (i) though today the valley is a wilderness it was densely inhabited in the past; (ii) that this population was organized into a three-tiered system composed of 19 settlements dominated by a city; and, (iii) that this occupation was embedded within a human engineered landscape. We also add to a growing body of literature that demonstrates the utility of LiDAR as means for rapid cultural assessments in undocumented regions for analysis and conservation. Our ultimate hope is for our work to promote protections to safeguard the unique and critically endangered Mosquitia ecosystem and other similar areas in need of preservation.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Mathematics, Science, Archaeology, Wilderness, Settlements, Settlement, Fulcrum


In recent years, some conservation biologists and conservation organizations have sought to refocus the field of conservation biology by de-emphasizing the goal of protecting nature for its own sake in favor of protecting the environment for its benefits to humans. This ‘new conservation science’ (NCS) has inspired debate among academics and conservationists and motivated fundamental changes in the world’s largest conservation groups. Despite claims that NCS approaches are supported by biological and social science, NCS has limited support from either. Rather, the shift in motivations and goals associated with NCS appear to arise largely from a belief system holding that the needs and wants of humans should be prioritized over any intrinsic or inherent rights and values of nature.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Environmentalism, Conservation movement, Environmental movement, Wilderness