Covering around 13% of Earth’s surface and harboring an estimated 83% of its endangered wildlife, protected areas are tasked with an outsize responsibility to safeguard vulnerable species, as well as many Indigenous communities. But mounting evidence suggests protected areas may not be living up to their name, with around a third of the planet’s protected land area under intense pressure from human activity. Now, a new study reveals 6% of the world’s protected land has been cleared and converted to crop fields.
The study, published this week in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by researchers Varsha Vijay of the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and Paul R. Armsworth of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee. Vijay and Armsworth combined data on protected areas, cropland, biodiversity levels, biomes, human density and income to see just how much of the planet’s agricultural land is coming at the expense of protected habitat and the factors that play into this.