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Extensive global wetland loss over the past three centuries


Wetlands have long been drained for human use, thereby strongly affecting greenhouse gas fluxes, flood control, nutrient cycling and biodiversity1,2. Nevertheless, the global extent of natural wetland loss remains remarkably uncertain3. Here, we reconstruct the spatial distribution and timing of wetland loss through conversion to seven human land uses between 1700 and 2020, by combining national and subnational records of drainage and conversion with land-use maps and simulated wetland extents. We estimate that 3.4 million km2 (confidence interval 2.9–3.8) of inland wetlands have been lost since 1700, primarily for conversion to croplands. This net loss of 21% (confidence interval 16–23%) of global wetland area is lower than that suggested previously by extrapolations of data disproportionately from high-loss regions. Wetland loss has been concentrated in Europe, the United States and China, and rapidly expanded during the mid-twentieth century. Our reconstruction elucidates the timing and land-use drivers of global wetland losses, providing an improved historical baseline to guide assessment of wetland loss impact on Earth system processes, conservation planning to protect remaining wetlands and prioritization of sites for wetland restoration4.

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Fig. 1: Reconstructed extent of drained, lost or converted wetlands between 1700 and 2020 globally.
Fig. 2: Heterogeneous wetland loss across countries, peatland regions and river basins of the world.
Fig. 3: Regional estimates of wetland loss to calibrate our reconstruction.
Fig. 4: Global wetland loss estimates from the literature and our study diverge markedly, with our reconstructed losses being lower than most previous estimates.

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Data availability

Data for national and subnational statistics of drained or converted areas, regional wetland percentage loss estimates, and gridded reconstruction of drained area per land use and cumulative—as well as natural wetland area—are available at

Code availability

The scripts used to process input data, model and calibrate the wetland loss reconstruction, and produce the figures are publicly available at


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Funding for this work was provided by a postgraduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (no. PGSD2-471651-2015), the David and Lucille Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering and National Science Foundation (grant no. DEB-1115025), a DAAD visit to Bonn Universität and by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant no. GBMF5439 (Advancing Understanding of the Global Methane Cycle) to Stanford University supporting the Methane Budget activity for the Global Carbon Project. B.D.S. was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. PCEFP2_181115).

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E.F.-C. conceived and designed the study, with input from J.R.M., B.D.S., A.M., Z.Z., B.P., P.B.M. and R.B.J. E.F.-C., S.S. and T.M. compiled drainage data. Wetland area data were provided by Z.Z., B.D.S., J.R.M. and B.L. Land-use data were provided by K.K.G. E.F.-C. developed the model calibration, with advice from B.D.S., J.M. and Z.Z. E.F.-C. wrote the manuscript with input from P.B.M., and all authors edited the final version.

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Correspondence to Etienne Fluet-Chouinard.

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Fluet-Chouinard, E., Stocker, B.D., Zhang, Z. et al. Extensive global wetland loss over the past three centuries. Nature 614, 281–286 (2023).

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