New Research Maps the Nature People Need Most

November 28, 2022

Protecting, managing and restoring 30% of land and 24% of ocean will preserve 90% of nature’s direct benefits to people

Map showing density of Critical Natural Assets across the world

From the study: mapping natural assets found on land and in the sea

Arlington, VA (Nov. 28, 2022) - New research published today offers a new way to approach the conservation of nature, by safeguarding the natural areas that people need to support their everyday lives and livelihoods. The study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, demonstrates how conserving nature can contribute to human wellbeing and maps the places – both lands and waters – that are essential for providing many of nature’s benefits to nearby communities, like food, freshwater and protection from storm surge or flooding.

The study from Conservation International, The University of Minnesota and other research partners around the world finds that conserving 30 percent of the Earth’s land and 24 percent of marine jurisdictions would sustain 90 percent of the total amount of those benefits to people. Moreover, these ‘critical natural assets’ deliver disproportionately high levels of benefits to an enormous percentage of the world’s population – more than 6 billion people globally – through providing services like water quality regulation, coastal protection, flood mitigation, fisheries, fodder for grazing animals, and many others. 

“All people on the planet benefit from nature” said Becky Chaplin-Kramer, lead author of the study and principal research scientist at the University of Minnesota. “What is striking is just how many people benefit from a relatively modest proportion of our total global land and ocean area. If we can safeguard these areas through a variety of conservation mechanisms that continue to allow the types of use that make them so valuable, including Indigenous and locally-driven conservation, we can ensure that these benefits continue for years to come.”

These findings suggest that international conservation efforts already underway could be effective in preserving a significant proportion of nature’s benefits to people – if they are carefully targeted. As one example, more than 100 countries have committed so far to the “30x30 Initiative” that seeks to protect, conserve and restore 30% of both land and sea area globally by 2030. Conservation targets that include the natural areas that provide these benefits to people can deliver a greater return on investment for both people and nature.

“One of the critical questions looking ahead will be: where should we focus our investments of time and resources? While nature is important everywhere, this study helps identify the places that are among the most critical for local communities, and nearby towns and cities, as well as humanity as a whole,” said David Hole, study author and vice president for global solutions at Conservation International’s Moore Center for Science. “Whether they are providing clean water, food security or protection from storms, it’s critical these areas are prioritized in global conservation efforts.”

These valuable ecosystems can be found in every corner of the planet. Some are well-known environmental powerhouses – like the Amazon and Congo Basin forests – while others may fly under-the-radar, like the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. But each one is vital to the communities it supports. Importantly, every country has some critical areas that benefit local communities, often found in the headwaters of large river basins or near heavily populated areas, like the Paraná River that runs through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina connecting the many population centers across central South America. Likewise, the headwaters of the Yangtze and Mekong rivers emerge as areas of key importance for many people in Asia.

Top of mind for the world’s nations is getting final agreement on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which is the key focus of the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 negotiations in December. This Framework will set the direction and ambition for actions to protect, conserve and restore nature for the next decade. 

These maps also deliver a critical message about synergies across nature’s values – the lands providing the most direct benefit to people are home to at least 60% of all terrestrial vertebrate species – mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians – and overlap with more than 80% of the global area most important for maintaining critical ‘irrecoverable carbon’ stores. This substantial overlap creates a vital opportunity to mitigate both the climate and biodiversity crises, while sustaining the nature that people need.

The research is not only the most comprehensive set of nature’s benefits to people yet to be mapped but the approach that has been developed can be adapted to national or sub-national decision-making scales, and, crucially, can and must be complemented with input from local people.

“Global maps can provide a big picture view, which can reveal large-scale patterns, but requires local context to make sense of, and to make decisions for, implementation,” says Chaplin-Kramer. “Ultimately, we hope this information can be used alongside other diverse values of nature, including intrinsic values of species. Recognizing the way every one of us benefits from and relies on nature can help create lasting buy-in for conservation.”

Read the full study in Nature Ecology and Evolution here.

Additional collaborators include: 

  • Basque Foundation for Science
  • Carleton University
  • Colorado State University
  • Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas, Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biologia Vegetal
  • Conservation International
  • Cornell University
  • King’s College London
  • Nature Conservancy of Canada
  • Penn State University
  • Stanford University, Natural Capital Project
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
  • University of Bern
  • University of Minnesota, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences
  • University of Siena
  • University of Tasmania
  • University of the Basque Country, Basque Center for Climate Change
  • Western Washington University
  • World Resources Institute
  • World Wildlife Fund


About Conservation International: Conservation International protects nature for the benefit of humanity. Through science, policy, fieldwork and finance, we spotlight and secure the most important places in nature for the climate, for biodiversity and for people. With offices in 30 countries and projects in more than 100 countries, Conservation International partners with governments, companies, civil society, Indigenous peoples and local communities to help people and nature thrive together. Go to for more, and follow our work on Conservation NewsFacebookTwitterTikTokInstagram and YouTube.