Research Brief

Scientists identify conservation areas to prevent extinction for thousands of species

Image of Atlantic Forest in Brazil
Credit: Getty Images.

A coalition of conservationists and researchers have shown how we can prevent the most likely and imminent species extinctions by saving a tiny percentage of the planet’s surface. This affordable, achievable plan would make it possible to preserve the most threatened species from extinction, safeguarding Earth’s wildlife for the future.  

Recently published in Frontiers in Science, the authors identify the most critical, currently unprotected areas of biodiversity in the world. These areas are home to over 4,700 threatened species, including mammals, birds, amphibians and rare plants. 

“Most species on Earth are rare, meaning that species either have very narrow ranges or they occur at very low densities or both,” said lead author Eric Dinerstein, director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at RESOLVE. “And rarity is very concentrated. In our study, zooming in on this rarity, we found that we need only about 1.2% of the Earth’s surface to head off the sixth great extinction of life on Earth.” 

The researchers found: 

  • 16,825 sites, covering approximately 164 million hectares, could prevent all predicted extinctions if they were adequately protected.
  • Over 80% of these sites occur in only 30 countries, with 72% of the sites concentrated in just 10 countries — one-third of all identified sites are in Brazil and the Philippines. 
  • Protecting the sites found in the tropics alone could stave off most predicted extinctions — the estimated annual cost is approximately $34 billion over the next five years, less than 0.2% of the U.S. GDP.

To calculate the price of this protection, the scientists modeled a cost estimate using data from hundreds of land protection projects over 14 years, accounting for the type and amount of land acquired as well as country-specific economic factors. These numbers are approximate because a variety of land purchase or long-term lease options might work well for protecting these areas. Stakeholders worldwide will need to decide which options work best for them. 

“Global climate change and species extinctions are twin crises our generation is facing and we are all in it as we have only one Earth,” said co-author Anup Joshi, a program coordinator and research associate in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota. “I hope this paper will encourage governments and biodiversity experts to refine and adapt this global study in their local, regional and national conservation and management plans.”

The study offers facts and figures conservation-focused organizations can use in their fundraising efforts and work on the ground in collaboration with Indigenous people, local governments, donor agencies and business entities. The researchers will next work with local experts to develop conservation plans in the top ten countries with the highest number of conservation sites. 

About the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences 
The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) strives to inspire minds, nourish people, and sustainably enhance the natural environment. CFANS has a legacy of innovation, bringing discoveries to life through science and educating the next generation of leaders. Every day, students, faculty, and researchers use science to address the grand challenges of the world today and in the future. CFANS offers an unparalleled expanse of experiential learning opportunities for students and the community, with 12 academic departments, 10 research and outreach centers across the state, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the Bell Museum of Natural History, and dozens of interdisciplinary centers. Learn more at

Media Contacts

Lori Fligge

College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Twin Cities