Understanding the scale, location and nature conservation values of the lands over which Indigenous Peoples exercise traditional rights is central to implementation of several global conservation and climate agreements. However, spatial information on Indigenous lands has never been aggregated globally. Here, using publicly available geospatial resources, we show that Indigenous Peoples manage or have tenure rights over at least ~38 million km2 in 87 countries or politically distinct areas on all inhabited continents. This represents over a quarter of the world’s land surface, and intersects about 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes (for example, boreal and tropical primary forests, savannas and marshes). Our results add to growing evidence that recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land, benefit sharing and institutions is essential to meeting local and global conservation goals. The geospatial analysis presented here indicates that collaborative partnerships involving conservation practitioners, Indigenous Peoples and governments would yield significant benefits for conservation of ecologically valuable landscapes, ecosystems and genes for future generations.

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We thank the thousands of people and government agencies who contribute to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) that is jointly developed by UN Environment and IUCN and managed by UNEP-WCMC in Cambridge, UK. We also acknowledge the efforts of those involved in participatory mapping of Indigenous lands, particularly F. Dubretet and others involved in developing the LandMark global platform for Indigenous and Community Lands. Early advice on the research was provided by A. Parellada, L. García-Alix and G. Rose of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and contributors to the World Parks Congress 2014 symposium on contributions to biodiversity conservation by the Indigenous Peoples and local communities of Africa: V. Courtois, H. Hunter-Xenie, A. Kothari, J. Morrison, G. Oviedo, J. Scott, B. Sithole, A. Tawake and L. Usongo. Additional national advice was kindly provided by R. Andreoli (New Caledonia), J. Ibanez (Philippines), N. Aldrin Mallari (Philippines), J. Scopélitis (New Caledonia), E. Stancioff (Dominica), V. Toral-Grande (Ecuador) and M. Tovar-Valencia (Mexico). J. Harrison and H. Bingham provided helpful comments on the final manuscript and L. Luck helped with illustrations.

Author information


  1. Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT, Australia

    • Stephen T. Garnett
    • , Beau Austin
    • , Neil French Collier
    • , Tom Duncan
    • , Hayley Geyle
    • , Micha V. Jackson
    • , Ben McGowan
    • , Amphone Sivongxay
    •  & Ian Leiper
  2. UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, UK

    • Neil D. Burgess
  3. Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Neil D. Burgess
  4. Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK

    • John E. Fa
  5. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Kota Bogor, Jawa Barat, Indonesia

    • John E. Fa
  6. Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

    • Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares
  7. Centre for Ecological Research, Hungarian Academy of Science, Vácrátót, Hungary

    • Zsolt Molnár
  8. Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University , Casuarina, NT, Australia

    • Cathy J. Robinson
    •  & Kerstin K. Zander
  9. CSIRO Ecoscience Precinct Dutton Park, QLD, Australia

    • Cathy J. Robinson
  10. School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

    • James E. M. Watson
  11. Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA

    • James E. M. Watson
  12. Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

    • Eduardo S. Brondizio
  13. Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA

    • Erle Ellis
  14. School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

    • Micha V. Jackson
  15. Natural Justice, Cape Town, South Africa

    • Harry Jonas
  16. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Pernilla Malmer


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S.T.G. conceived the paper, drafted the initial text and analysed data. S.T.G., T.D., M.V.J., B.M., A.S. and I.L. located the maps and I.L. undertook the GIS analysis. J.E.F., K.K.Z., I.L. and H.G. analysed data. All 20 authors contributed ideas and finalized the text.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephen T. Garnett.

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