, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 434–441 | Cite as

The role of protected areas in mitigating human impact in the world’s last wilderness areas

  • Emily Anderson
  • Christos MammidesEmail author
Research Article


Human impact on the environment is evident across the planet, including its most biodiverse areas. Of particular interest is the impact on the world’s last wilderness areas, in which the largest patches of land relatively free from human influence remain. Here, we use the human footprint index to measure the extent to which the world’s last wilderness areas have been impacted by human activities—between the years 1993 and 2009—and whether protected areas have been effective in reducing human impact. We found that overall the increase in human footprint was higher in tropical than temperate regions. Moreover, although on average the increase was lower inside protected areas than outside, in half of the fourteen biomes examined the differences were insignificant. Although reasons varied, protected areas alone are unlikely to be ubiquitously successful in protecting wilderness areas. To achieve protection, it is important to address loss and improve environmental governance.


Biodiversity conservation Human footprint IUCN protected areas Last of the wild Terrestrial biomes 



We are thankful to the researchers who have developed and made available the datasets we used in this study. We are also thankful to two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. E.A. is also thankful to the Freeman Foundation and Furman University, in the United States, for a Grant supporting her stay in China.

Supplementary material

13280_2019_1213_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guangxi Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Conservation, College of ForestryGuangxi UniversityNanningChina
  2. 2.McbeeUSA

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