New Forest Landscape Integrity Index reveals that only 40% of world’s forests have high integrity

News 09.12.20

Posted by WCS

Tuesday 8th December 2020

  • WCS and science partners have produced the first measure of ecological integrity for forests globally.
  • The index reveals that only 40% of forests are considered to have high integrity. Ecological integrity is critical for combating climate change, preserving biodiversity, protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and avoiding future pandemics.
  • This new, publicly available measure can be used to inform global policy decisions and land management.

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 reveals that, globally, only 40% 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 km2 of Earth’s remaining forests (40%) are considered to have high integrity, and only 27% 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

“We need intact forests now more than ever. This research reveals the true extent of what we are doing to nature. The potential knock on effects for the world’s climate, biodiversity and human health are terrifying. It’s time to reverse nature loss to become nature-positive.”

Lucy Almond, Chair of Nature4Climate

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





WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


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