Danielle Wood was quoted in the Science Magazine article by Elizabeth Pennisi, "Just 19% of Earth’s land is still ‘wild,’ analysis suggests."
Since the 1960s, conservationists have had a standard solution for saving biodiversity: Protect natural areas from human influence. But a new analysis of Earth’s land use going back 12,000 years suggests that even in the time of mammoths and giant sloths, just one-quarter of the planet was untouched by humans, compared with 19% today. Because some of those inhabited areas are now biodiversity hot spots, people probably helped sustain—and even increase—the diversity of other species for millennia, the authors write. The findings also suggest many traditional practices and Indigenous peoples play a key role in preserving biodiversity.
The paper “debunks an important myth” in conservation circles, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology aerospace engineer Danielle Wood, who studies technology and international development but was not involved with the new work. By offering a long-term look at humans’ impact on the planet, the study reveals that it’s not people per se that send biodiversity on a downward spiral, but it’s instead the overexploitation of resources, she explains. If their practices are sustainable, “humans don’t have to be removed,” to save the world’s species.