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Abstract and Figures

Reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss is a major challenge facing humanity¹, as the consequences of biological annihilation would be irreversible for humankind2–4. Although the ongoing degradation of ecosystems5,6 and the extinction of species that comprise them7,8 are now well-documented, little is known about the role that remaining wilderness areas have in mitigating the global biodiversity crisis. Here we model the persistence probability of biodiversity, combining habitat condition with spatial variation in species composition, to show that retaining these remaining wilderness areas is essential for the international conservation agenda. Wilderness areas act as a buffer against species loss, as the extinction risk for species within wilderness communities is—on average—less than half that of species in non-wilderness communities. Although all wilderness areas have an intrinsic conservation value9,10, we identify the areas on every continent that make the highest relative contribution to the persistence of biodiversity. Alarmingly, these areas—in which habitat loss would have a more-marked effect on biodiversity—are poorly protected. Given globally high rates of wilderness loss¹⁰, these areas urgently require targeted protection to ensure the long-term persistence of biodiversity, alongside efforts to protect and restore more-degraded environments.
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LETTER https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1567-7
Wilderness areas halve the extinction risk of
terrestrial biodiversity
Moreno Di Marco1,2*, Simon Ferrier3, Tom D. Harwood3, Andrew J. Hoskins4 & James E. M. Watson5,6
Reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss is a major challenge
facing humanity
1
, as the consequences of biological annihilation
would be irreversible for humankind2–4. Although the ongoing
degradation of ecosystems5,6 and the extinction of species that
comprise them7,8 are now well-documented, little is known about the
role that remaining wilderness areas have in mitigating the global
biodiversity crisis. Here we model the persistence probabilityof
biodiversity, combininghabitat condition with spatial variation
in species composition, to show that retaining these remaining
wilderness areas is essential for the international conservation
agenda. Wilderness areas act as a buffer against species loss, as
the extinction risk for species within wilderness communities
is—on average—less than half that of species in non-wilderness
communities. Although all wilderness areas have an intrinsic
conservation value9,10, we identify the areas on every continent
that make the highest relative contribution to the persistence of
biodiversity. Alarmingly, these areas—in which habitat loss would
have a more-marked effect on biodiversity—are poorly protected.
Given globally high rates of wilderness loss
10
, these areas urgently
require targeted protection to ensure the long-term persistence of
biodiversity, alongside efforts to protect and restore more-degraded
environments.
Wilderness areas, in which industrial levels of human disturbance
are absent or minimal
9,10
, are the last stronghold of intact ecosystems
across Earth. However, their extent has rapidly decreased over past
decades; more than 10% of the wilderness that existed in the early 1990s
has since been converted to human use
10,11
. Little is known about the
role that wilderness has in supporting the persistence of biodiversity,
as reflected in the absence of wilderness targets in the international
environmental agenda12. Here we address this knowledge gap and pro-
vide—to our knowledge—the first estimate of the global importance
of wilderness areas for the persistence of terrestrial biodiversity. We
use communities of vascular plants and invertebrates as surrogates for
biodiversity, as these highly diverse and customarily understudied13,14
groups represent the largest part of terrestrial biodiversity in terms of
both species numbers and biomass (about 60% of species are inverte-
brates15 and about 80% of biomass is from plants16).
We take advantage of an approach17 that maps the β-diversity of
biological communities—that is, the spatial variation in their species
composition—on the basis of generalized dissimilarity modelling18,19.
1CSIRO Land and Water, Dutton Park EcoSciences Precinct, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. 2Department of Biology and Biotechnology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy. 3CSIRO Land
and Water, Black Mountain Laboratories, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 4CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. 5Centre for
Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. 6Global Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, NY, USA.
*e-mail: moreno.dimarco@gmail.com
Wilderness
Pextinction
0
0.05
0.10
>0.10
>0.20
Australasia
Pextinction
Indomalay
Pextinction
Frequency
Afrotropical
Pextinction
Frequency
Nearctic
Pextinction
Frequency
Neotropical
Pextinction
Frequency
40
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
40
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20
Palaearctic
Pextinction
Frequency
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20
40
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
40
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
40
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
87
30
20
10
0
10
20
30
40
Fig. 1 | Global probabilities of species extinction for communities of
invertebrates and vascular plants associated with 1-km2 grid cells.
The underlying map reports the estimated proportion of native species
(originally associated with a particular grid cell) expected to disappear
completely from their distribution, owing to the current condition of the
habitats in which they occur. The histogram bars represent the relative
frequency distribution of the probability of extinctions (Pextinction) that
were registered within areas of wilderness (green bars) and non-wilderness
(orange bars), for each biogeographical realm.
582 | NATURE | VOL 573 | 26 SEPTEMBER 2019
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
... The first draft of GBF includes 2050 vision/2030 mission, 2050 goals/2030 milestones and 2030 action targets. Of the 21 action-oriented targets for 2030, "retaining existing intact and wilderness areas" is emphasized in the first target (CBD, 2021), recognizing that losing wilderness is one of the key drivers of the global biodiversity crisis (Di Marco et al., 2019;Di Marco et al., 2018;Williams et al., 2020). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), wilderness areas are usually large unmodified or slightly modified landscapes, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation (Casson et al., 2016). ...
... Protecting the world's remaining wilderness could create multiple benefits and contribute to SDGs in several ways. First, protecting wilderness could potentially halve the extinction risk of terrestrial biodiversity on global scale (Di Marco et al., 2019). Therefore, preventing further wilderness loss could significantly reduce extinction risks of various species. ...
... Considering the multiple benefits of wilderness and the negative effect of rapid wilderness loss in the recent past, preventing further loss of wilderness should be a top priority in global biodiversity conservation. It has been widely recognized that the agricultural and urban expansion cause serious threats to biodiversity and wilderness (Di Marco et al., 2019) and previous studies have identified the fronts of development where additional attention is needed to plan and manage these expanded footprints (Chen, 2020). However, few studies have been conducted to predict the spatiotemporal pattern of potential wilderness loss in the future due to LUCC (Li et al., 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Wilderness loss is one of the main threats to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity proposes "retaining wilderness areas" in the first target of the 21 action-oriented targets for 2030. We conducted a global analysis of projected loss of wilderness area (PLWA) due to land use and land cover change (LUCC) by 2100. This analysis has a spatial resolution of 1 km*1 km and emphasizes the impact of cropland and urban expansion considering multiple SSP-RCP scenarios. We found that a total of 4.6 million km 2 of wilderness is susceptible to cropland and urban expansion (1.3 times larger than India) by 2100. Alarmingly, >51 % of PLWA is concentrated in just ten countries. We call for urgent conservation actions to prevent further wilderness loss.
... However, there was considerable variation in this trend among mammals and birds in the Indomalayan and Neotropical realms and reptiles in the Afrotropics, such that the probability of population decline with increasing forest integrity was not significantly different from baseline estimates (95% CIs overlapped; Fig. 3). Indomalayan vertebrates faced the highest overall risk (with the exception of amphibians in Australasia and reptiles in the Afrotropics), congruent with prior findings for non-vertebrates in this region 21 . These findings for rainforest-obligate vertebrates were mirrored in species associated with tropical rainforests (Extended Data Fig. 3). ...
... Large, well-connected forest landscapes are essential for biodiversity conservation, especially in an era of climate change 21,22,29 . We show a higher likelihood of extinction risk and declining populations when large extents of forest cover within species ranges were degraded, emphasizing the importance of minimizing human disturbances in remaining intact tropical rainforest landscapes 22 . ...
... Invertebrates and vascular plants comprise the greatest share of tropical biodiversity in terms of species diversity and biomass 41,42 . Comparable range map and habitat preference data for non-vertebrate groups remain unavailable, but future work with alternative datasets and statistical approaches can help to quantify the importance of forest integrity for such diverse yet understudied taxonomic groups 21 . Further, investigating links between remotely sensed indices of forest structural condition and integrity and species traits may offer insights into the potential role of intact forests as a buffer for functional species groups particularly susceptible to environmental change 43,44 . ...
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Reducing deforestation underpins global biodiversity conservation efforts. However, this focus on retaining forest cover overlooks the multitude of anthropogenic pressures that can degrade forest quality and imperil biodiversity. We use remotely sensed indices of tropical rainforest structural condition and associated human pressures to quantify the relative importance of forest cover, structural condition and integrity (the cumulative effect of condition and pressures) on vertebrate species extinction risk and population trends across the global humid tropics. We found that tropical rainforests of high integrity (structurally intact and under low pressures) were associated with lower likelihood of species being threatened and having declining populations, compared with forest cover alone (without consideration of condition and pressures). Further, species were more likely to be threatened or have declining populations if their geographic ranges contained high proportions of degraded forest than if their ranges contained lower proportions of forest cover but of high quality. Our work suggests that biodiversity conservation policies to preserve forest integrity are now urgently required alongside ongoing efforts to halt deforestation in the hyperdiverse humid tropics.
... 10 Wilderness areas serve as reservoirs of genetic information, act as references for efforts to rewild degraded land and seascapes, contain over 40% of aboveground tropical forest carbon, and buffer species against extinction risk. 9,[11][12][13] However, large-scale landscape modifications through road and railway development, industrial logging, agricultural expansion, and resource extraction have reduced the extent of wilderness, as mapped by the human footprint, 1 by 10% (3.3 million km 2 ) since the 1990s. 7 Wilderness conservation has been explicitly referenced for the first time in the post-2020 zero-draft of the global biodiversity framework, which aims to retain ''most of the existing intact and wilderness areas'' left on Earth. ...
... Global wilderness areas are the only places free from industrialscale activity, and their conservation value has been clearly demonstrated 12,41 : they shelter biodiversity and slow extinction rates. Achieving future global conservation goals, among them zero biodiversity loss by 2030, hinges on these areas remaining intact. ...
Article
Earth’s wilderness areas are reservoirs of genetic information and carbon storage systems, and are vital to reducing extinction risks. Retaining the conservation value of these areas is fundamental to achieving global biodiversity conservation goals; however, climate and land-use risk can undermine their ability to provide these functions. The extent to which wilderness areas are likely to be impacted by these drivers has not previously been quantified. Using climate and land-use change during baseline (1971–2005) and future (2016–2050) periods, we estimate that these stressors within wilderness areas will increase by ca. 60% and 39%, respectively, under a scenario of high emission and land-use change (SSP5-RCP8.5). Nearly half (49%) of all wilderness areas could experience substantial climate change by 2050 under this scenario, potentially limiting their capacity to shelter biodiversity. Notable climate (>5 km year−1) and land-use (>0.25 km year−1) changes are expected to occur more rapidly in the unprotected wilderness, including the edges of the Amazonian wilderness, Northern Russia, and Central Africa, which support unique assemblages of species and are critical for the preservation of biodiversity. However, an alternative scenario of sustainable development (SSP1-RCP2.6) would attenuate the projected climate velocity and land-use instability by 54% and 6%, respectively. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and preserving the remaining intact natural ecosystems can help fortify these bastions of biodiversity.
... These are often rolled out in the context of "green development" programmes (Collins 2020) and are part of a broader trend of neoliberalisation of conservation governance, which Holmes and Cavanagh (2016, p. 199) associate with "the rise of practices and discourses of financialisation, marketisation, privatisation, commodification, and decentralisation". At the same time, many conservation groups signal preferences for stricter controls on human influences on nature (Di Marco et al. 2019;Dinerstein et al. 2017;Wilson 2017). ...
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Full-text available
The multiple environmentalities framework has been used to disentangle the diverse rationalities of governance that underpin contemporary environmental governance programmes. Often missing from such analyses is a networked and scalar dimension that can provide a basis for understanding the structural dimensions of environmental governance and the contingent expressions of multiple environmentalities. Here, we draw on insights from politics of scale to present a framework for analysing the multiple environmentalities of environmental governance in protected areas. We focus on the construction of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park in Lao PDR, drawing on document analysis and semi-structured interviews with multi-level actor groups. We show how conservation interventions rationalised on neoliberal environmentalities produce novel discursive and material mechanisms for extending sovereign environmentalities, for instance via contractual obligations and via project designs that necessitate social fragmentation. In addition, by presenting case studies of multiple environmentalities in three village sites, we demonstrate how interactions generate contestations and lead to new entanglements for residents, resulting in geographically and socially uneven manifestations of conservation programmes. We urge further attention to how competing scale-making projects interact to shape the practices of environmental governance and the fragmented nature through which environmental subjects are formed.
... The degree of human disturbance greatly affects the effectiveness of PAs (Feng et al., 2022). Species within communities experiencing high human pressure are more than twice as likely to be at risk for extinction compared to species living with low human pressure (Di Marco et al., 2019). We found that the pilot NPs generally maintained a low human population density and a high proportion of state-owned land, but exhibited obvious spatial differentiation. ...
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The continuous decline of global biodiversity highlights the need for the expansion and improved performance of protected areas (PAs) to achieve the Post-2020 Biodiversity Targets and 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. China proposed the establishment of a national park (NP) system and carried out transformative explorations in 10 pilot NPs, however, it is unclear to what extent the pilot NPs represent China’s biodiversity and resolve management issues. To answer this question, we assessed the performance of the pilot NPs by analyzing the representativeness across typical ecosystems, biodiversity priority areas, and ecosystem services, and by analyzing the management effectiveness of reorganizing the existing PAs and improving the management intensity and man-land relationships. We found that China’s pilot NPs achieved improved representativeness and management effectiveness through range expansion and optimization, institution streamlining, and cohesive management. Compared with the existing PAs, the area of protected typical ecosystems, biodiversity priority areas, and key areas of ecosystem services in the 10 pilot NPs increased by 59.6%, 59.6%, and 54.1% on average, respectively, with a similar land cost overall. The 10 pilot NPs integrated 142 existing PAs of seven categories. The protected areas expanded by 19.4%, and the area under strict protection increased by 42.1%. Additionally, the pilot NPs effectively reduced human disturbance and improved management effectiveness through necessary relocation and enhanced land management. Moving forward, the boundaries and zoning of the NPs should be further optimized, and efforts should be directed to strengthen the governing capacity building, improve the legislation system, increase the financing investment, and promote the value realization of ecological products.
... This means that the term 'threat mapping' has been applied equally to maps of threatened species or extinction risk categories (herein maps of species state, e.g. [19,20,[22][23][24]), maps of human-driven activities irrespective of species presence (herein maps of human pressure, e.g. [25][26][27]), and maps of the spatial co-occurrence between species and threatening human activities (herein threat maps, e.g. ...
Article
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Background Human activities are driving accelerating rates of species extinctions that continue to threaten nature’s contribution to people. Yet, the full scope of where and how human activities threaten wild species worldwide remains unclear. Furthermore, the large diversity of approaches and terminology surrounding threats and threat mapping presents a barrier to understanding the state of knowledge and uptake into decision-making. Here, we define ‘threats’ as human activities and direct human-initiated processes, specifically where they co-occur with, and impact the survival of, wild species. Our objectives were to systematically consolidate the threat mapping literature, describe the distribution of available evidence, and produce a publicly available and searchable database of articles for easy uptake of evidence into future decision-making. Methods Four bibliographic databases, one web-based search engine, and thirteen organisational websites were searched for peer-reviewed and grey-literature published in English 2000–2020. A three-stage screening process (title, abstract, and full-text) and coding was undertaken by two reviewers, with consistency tested on 20% of articles at each stage. Articles were coded according to 22 attributes that captured dimensions of the population, threat, and geographic location studied in addition to methodological attributes. The threats studied were classified according to the IUCN Red List threat classification scheme. A range of graphical formats were used to visualise the distribution of evidence according to these attributes and complement the searchable database of articles. Review findings A total of 1069 relevant threat mapping studies were found and included in the systematic map, most conducted at a sub-national or local scale. Evidence was distributed unevenly among taxonomic groups, ecological realms, and geographies. Although articles were found for the full scope of threat categories used, most articles mapped a single threat. The most heavily mapped threats were alien invasive species, aquatic or terrestrial animal exploitation, roads and railways, residential development, and non-timber crop and livestock agriculture. Limitations regarding the English-only search and imperfect ability of the search to identify grey literature could have influenced the findings. Conclusions This systematic map represents a catalogue of threat mapping evidence at any spatial scale available for immediate use in threat reduction activities and policy decisions. The distribution of evidence has implications for devising actions to combat the threats specifically targeted in the post-2020 UN Biodiversity Framework, and for identifying other threats that may benefit from representation in global policy. It also highlights key gaps for further research to aid national and local-scale threat reduction. More knowledge would be particularly beneficial in the areas of managing multiple threats, land-based threats to marine systems, and threats to plant species and threats within the freshwater realm.
... The human pressure index Williams et al., 2020b) includes pressures, all of which are well known to reduce ecosystem condition, on (1) the extent of built human environments (Aronson et al., 2014;Tratalos et al., 2007), (2) population density (Brashares et al., 2001;Burney and Flannery, 2005), (3) electric infrastructure (Guetté et al., 2018), (4) crop lands (Luck and Daily, 2003), (5) pasture lands (Kauffman and Krueger, 1984), (6) roadways (Trombulak and Frissell, 2000), (7) railways , and (8) navigable waterways (Harvolk et al., 2015). Across several studies it has been shown to be a robust measure for assessing the consequences of human pressure for species and ecosystem processes (Crooks et al., 2017;Di Marco et al., 2019, 2018Hill et al., 2021;Main et al., 2020;Tucker et al., 2018). It has the same limitations that are inherent to all cumulative pressure mapping efforts -it is not possible to fully account for all human pressures such as climate change and CO 2 fertilisation. ...
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All tropical savannahs are experiencing extensive transformation and degradation, yet conservation strategies do not adequately address threats to savannahs. Here, using a recently published ecosystem intactness metric, we assess the current condition of tropical savannahs across Earth, finding that <3 % remain highly intact. Moreover, their overall levels of protection are low, and of the protected savannahs, just 4 % can be considered highly intact while the majority (>60 %) are in poor condition. In order to address the clear mismatch between the decline in tropical savannah ecosystems’ condition and the response to manage and conserve them, we reviewed the current drivers that lead to tropical savannah degradation and identified conservation approaches being used to address them. Many successful conservation approaches address multiple drivers of change but are applied across small areas. We argue these approaches have the potential to be up-scaled through integrated land-use planning.
... Expert range maps are insufficient, as they are unstandardized and exist for few groups (Hughes et al., 2021c). Turning to area-based conservation, diversity must be incorporated and metrics of "intactness" alone cannot be relied on, as such metrics prioritize large homogeneous ecosystems with low diversity as is seen with much of the wilderness scheme too often promulgated (Di Marco et al., 2019, Fletcher et al., 2021 Siberia and northern Canada are not biodiversity hotspots for most groups, for instance, but make up a huge portion of global wilderness). This is especially relevant when it comes to climate targets, as climate targets which do not incorporate biodiversity in their development and assessment can conflict with species conservation . ...
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The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework currently is under development as part of the Convention of Biodiversity's aim to prevent global biodiversity losses by 2050, but targets can only be effectively developed and assessed if the data used for them are fit for purpose. The monitoring framework has been discussed at length and ensuring appropriate data use is critical to target effectiveness, enabling the monitoring of global biodiversity trends and assessment of target success. We outline a vision for how conservation data resources can be improved via automation and other routes to greatly enhance both ease of use and effectiveness for conservation. Synthesis across different types of data is urgently needed and could be enabled by a unified data system and automated workflows for cross-validation between data types, with downstream products such as grades for expert range maps that reflect their underlying bases and data quality and reliability to determine their fit for analysis, as well as automated preliminary IUCN assessments to expedite conservation. Capacity building and collaboration rooted in international agreements will be necessary for these initiatives to effectively function globally to enable new global targets to be achieved for effective conservation and targeted resource mobilization at all scales.
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Aim Global indicators of change in the state of terrestrial biodiversity are often derived by intersecting observed or projected changes in the distribution of habitat transformation, or of protected areas, with underlying patterns in the distribution of biodiversity. However the two main sources of data used to account for biodiversity patterns in such assessments – i.e. ecoregional boundaries, and vertebrate species ranges – are typically delineated at a much coarser resolution than the spatial grain of key ecological processes shaping both land-use and biological distributions at landscape scale. Species distribution modelling provides one widely used means of refining the resolution of mapped species distributions, but is limited to a subset of species which is biased both taxonomically and geographically, with some regions of the world lacking adequate data to generate reliable models even for better-known biological groups. Innovation Macroecological modelling of collective properties of biodiversity (e.g. alpha and beta diversity) as a correlative function of environmental predictors offers an alternative, yet highly complementary, approach to refining the spatial resolution with which patterns in the distribution of biodiversity can be mapped across our planet. Here we introduce a new capability – BILBI (the Biogeographic Infrastructure for Large-scaled Biodiversity Indicators) – which has implemented this approach by integrating advances in macroecological modelling, biodiversity informatics, remote sensing and high-performance computing to assess spatial-temporal change in biodiversity at ~1km grid resolution across the entire terrestrial surface of the planet. The initial implementation of this infrastructure focuses on modelling beta-diversity patterns using a novel extension of generalised dissimilarity modelling (GDM) designed to extract maximum value from sparsely and unevenly distributed occurrence records for over 400,000 species of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Main conclusions Models generated by BILBI greatly refine the mapping of beta-diversity patterns relative to more traditional biodiversity surrogates such as ecoregions. This capability is already proving of considerable value in informing global biodiversity assessment through: 1) generation of indicators of past-to-present change in biodiversity based on observed changes in habitat condition and protected-area coverage; and 2) projection of potential future change in biodiversity as a consequence of alternative scenarios of global change in drivers and policy options.
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Nations have committed to ambitious conservation targets in response to accelerating rates of global biodiversity loss. Anticipating future impacts is essential to inform policy decisions for achieving these targets, but predictions need to be of sufficiently high spatial resolution to forecast the local effects of global change. As part of the intercomparison of biodiversity and ecosystem services models of the IPBES, we present a fine‐resolution assessment of trends in the persistence of global plant biodiversity. We coupled generalised dissimilarity models, fitted to >52 million records of >254 thousand plant species, with the species‐area relationship, to estimate the effect of land‐use and climate change on global biodiversity persistence. We estimated that the number of plant species committed to extinction over the long term has increased by 60% globally between 1900 and 2015 (from ~10,000 to ~16,000). This number is projected to decrease slightly by 2050 under the most optimistic scenario of land‐use change, and to substantially increase (to ~18,000) under the most pessimistic scenario. This means that, in the absence of climate change, scenarios of sustainable socio‐economic development can potentially bring extinction risk back to pre‐2000 levels. Alarmingly, under all scenarios, the additional impact from climate change might largely surpass that of land‐use change. In this case, the estimated number of species committed to extinction increases by 3.7‐4.5 times compared to land‐use‐only projections. African regions (especially central and southern) are expected to suffer some of the highest impacts into the future, while biodiversity decline in Southeast Asia (which has previously been among the highest globally) is projected to slow down. Our results suggest that environmentally sustainable land‐use planning alone might not be sufficient to prevent potentially dramatic biodiversity loss, unless a stabilisation of climate to pre‐industrial times is observed. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.