AI modelling quantifies wilderness extinction risk

By on 16 October, 2019

Anbangbang Rock and forest in Arnhem Land. Image: CSIRO/Warren Poole.

An advanced AI-driven CSIRO modelling tool has quantified the link between wilderness areas and extinction risk to biodiversity for the first time.

New research from Australian scientists published in Nature has found that wilderness areas halve the extinction risk of biodiversity, compared to the risk outside wilderness areas.

Wilderness areas are zones untouched by human development, such as parts of the Amazon rainforest, Arnhem land, and Canada’s British Columbia.

“The latest maps show that more than three million square kilometres of wilderness has been lost since the 1990s. This is an area the size of India. Maps also show that less than 20 per cent of the world can be called wilderness,” lead author Dr. Moreno Di Marco said.

“Yet until now, little was known about the consequences of this for preventing extinction of species.”

The CSIRO team, along with researchers from University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that these areas serve as a buffer for extinction of terrestrial species, with the risk of species loss twice as high outside these areas.

“This is important because reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss is a major challenge facing humanity. But little is known about the role that remaining wilderness areas have in mitigating the global biodiversity crisis,” Dr. Di Marco said.

The components of the BILBI modelling system. Image: CSIRO.

This research was conducted using CSIRO’s modelling capability BILBI, which can model global biodiversity change at high spatial resolution with AI, ‘best available’ environmental data and high performance computing, according to CSIRO.

Assessments with BILBI were used to inform key findings of the landmark Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report released earlier this year, which found that the ecosystem services supporting life on Earth will collapse without ‘transformational’ changes to land use.

The researchers found that the management of wilderness areas in Arnhem Land by Traditional Owners was one of the world’s best example of environmental stewardship, in which management of the native flora and fauna took in incorporated both ancient methods and knowledge, alongside current technology-enabled monitoring techniques.

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