Land Use and Global Change: Save 50% for Biodiversity

by Galen Guerrero-Murphy on July 28, 2012

conservation land

Nope, this is not a sale. This is about embracing a bold new vision for conservation–a vision of preserving and managing 50% of our planet’s land with conservation as a primary objective.

In a recent editorial in the February 2012 issue of Conservation Biology (Volume 26, Number 1), policy-driven regional, national and global conservation targets, such as the woefully inadequate objectives established at the 2010 Nagoya Conference on the Convention for Biological Diversity, were contrasted with targets proposed by empirically-based scientific studies. Upon analyzing these studies, the authors concluded a bold, scientifically-defensible, and precautionary conservation objective: conserve 50% of our Earth’s land for biodiveristy and to sustain the ecosystem services we all depend on.

The authors, citing Jetz et al. 2007 and Bunker et al. 2005, write:

An exclusive focus on global climate change, the current rage, may obscure other pressing conservation problems and divert funding from combating them. As a direct global threat to species and ecosystems, climate change is currently dwarfed by land-use change in response to human population growth and conversion of wildlands to agricultural use. Current rates of land-use change will make adaptation of species to climate change virtually impossible. Conversely, protecting native ecosystems can increase their resilience and their ability to store carbon.

We need to take a long, hard look at our regional, national and continent-level strategies and targets for conservation. Conservation lands should be as large as possible and “functionally connected” to allow movement and adaptive shifts by species. Some regions may warrant more or less than 50% conservation, but this is the average to strive for. Establishing national and continental wildlife corridors is a must.

And while large-scale planning is certainly necessary, we can also begin to think about the 50% goal in our regions, our neighborhoods, our own backyards. Are there ways to create wildlife value on your own property? Absolutely!

As we think about conservation, there is much ado about the ecosystem services that biodiverse ecosystems provides (including on this site). It is refreshing to read:

Biodiversity should be managed as a public good, but it is narrow minded to dwell exclusively on its material benefits to people. Discussions about human development and ecosystem services need to delve deeper and communicate more effectively…Conservation professionals should not assume that only economic and utilitarian values determine people’s attitudes toward conservation. Many people value nature for its own sake.


This short editorial draws a much-needed line in the sand by establishing a straightforward, global land conservation objective. Resembling the 350 ppm atmospheric GHG target embraced by climate scientists and advocates, this editorial just might provide the bold, simple and defensible vision we need to begin to challenge the often inadequate socially and politically-acceptable targets for land conservation.

Save 50% for biodiversity. Let’s do it.

Chime in–do you think this a realistic and achievable land conservation target?

Photograph by Galen Guerrero-Murphy

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james August 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

Very interesting! I don’t have a good sense of what is realistic and achievable, but I will refill our birdbath when I get home.


Galen Guerrero-Murphy August 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm

There you go!

Think about letting half of your lawn turn into a perennial meadow. Err, I know your yard, perhaps plant a few more shrubs to add understory to your forest habitat.


Gail Coray August 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm

How about leave the whole lawn a meadow? A little hand scythe whacks off the seed heads when they get unmanageable. Presto, no dreaded power mower emissions, fuel consumption, stink or noise. It’s very soothing.


Galen Guerrero-Murphy August 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Even better! Also a good workout and a water conservation opportunity.

There are many ordinances in the US (and neighborhood associations) requiring lawn mowing when grass exceeds 8-10″–sometimes less. Is it really that unsightly to have a meadow out front, or are we just that out of touch with nature and wildness? Meadows are beautiful. Chant that. I’d say letting my lawn turn to meadow for the sake of creating a small oasis of suburban habitat is a right worth fighting for. Here’s to 50%!

That said, I’ve also read of requirements in California to mow due to fire risk…


Dawn August 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

Excellent ideas. There is much debate about invasive plant species, but no matter the side you chose to take, many species are endangered due to invasive plants, which compete and displace native communities.. this includes insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc. Even if you are unable to have a meadow :) for a yard you can use native (to your local area) plants to enhance what you do have and know that you have plants that will negatively effect any habitat left in the neighborhood.


Galen Guerrero-Murphy September 3, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Dawn, thank you for your comment. Indeed, utilizing native species is a great way to promote ecological function and deter the proliferation of invasives, which are shocking to the equilibrium of stable ecosystems.


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