Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Analysis
  • Published:

A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Global map of lands managed and/or controlled by Indigenous Peoples (percentage of each degree square mapped as Indigenous in at least one of 127 source documents; Supplementary Information section 2).
Fig. 2: Spatial comparison of Indigenous Peoples’ and other lands.
Fig. 3: Regional variation in the conservation values of Indigenous Peoples’ and other lands.
Fig. 4: Area of each anthropogenic biome (anthrome14) on Indigenous Peoples’ land (brown) compared with other lands (yellow).

Images courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Indigenous peoples. The World Bank (2017).

  2. C169 − Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) (International Labour Organisation,1989);

  3. Berkes, F. Community-based conservation in a globalized world. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 15188–15193 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Sobrevila, C. The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation (World Bank, Washington, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Gilbert, J. Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights under International Law (Brill, Leiden, 2016).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Stevens, S., Jaeger, T. & Broome, N. P. ICCAs and Overlapping Protected Areas: Fostering Conservation Synergies and Social Reconciliation (ICC Consortium, Teheran, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Veit, P. & Reytar, K. By the numbers: indigenous and community land rights. World Resources Institute (20 March 2017).

  8. Bryan, J. Walking the line: participatory mapping, Indigenous rights, and neoliberalism. Geoforum 42, 40–50 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gavin, M. C. et al. Defining biocultural approaches to conservation. Trends Ecol. Evol. 30, 140–145 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Forest Peoples Program. International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity & Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Local Biodiversity Outlooks – Summary and Conclusions (Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh, 2016).

  11. Schmeller, D., Henle, K., Loyau, A., Besnard, A. & Henry, P. Y. Bird-monitoring in Europe - a first overview of practices, motivations and aims. Nat. Conserv. 2, 41–57 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. LandMark, global platform of indigenous and community lands. 2018.

  13. UNEP-WCMC and IUCN. Protected Planet: The World Database on Protected Areas (UNEP-WCMC and IUCN, Cambridge, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Ellis, E. C. & Ramankutty, N. Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. Front. Ecol. Environ. 6, 439–447 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Venter, O. et al. Global terrestrial Human Footprint maps for 1993 and 2009. Sci. Data 3, sdata201667 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Convention on Biological Diversity. Decision Adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its Tenth Meeting X/2. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (UNEP, 2010);

  17. Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015);

  18. Transforming our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015);

  19. Díaz, S. et al. The IPBES Conceptual Framework—connecting nature and people. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 14, 1–16 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Renwick, A. R. et al. Mapping Indigenous land management for threatened species conservation: an Australian case-study. PloS One 12, e0173876 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dowie, M. Conservation Refugees: the Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (MIT Press, London, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Watson, J. E. M. et al. Persistent disparities between recent rates of habitat conversion and protection and implications for future global conservation targets. Conserv. Lett. 9, 413–421 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Watson, J. E. M. et al. Catastrophic declines in wilderness areas undermine global environment targets. Curr. Biol. 26, 2929–2934 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Finer, M. et al. Future of oil and gas development in the western Amazon. Env. Res. Lett. 28, 024003 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Trosper, R. L. Northwest coast Indigenous institutions that supported resilience and sustainability. Ecol. Econ. 41, 329–344 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Simon, S. & Randalls, S. Resilience and the politics of multiplicity. Dialog. Human. Geog. 6, 45–49 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Norman, E. S. Standing up for inherent rights: the role of Indigenous-led activism in protecting sacred waters and ways of life. Soc. Nat. Res. 30, 537–553 (2017). (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Brondizio, E. S. & Le Tourneau, F.-M. Environmental governance for all. Science 352, 1272–1273 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Mantyka-Pringle, C. S., Westman, C. N., Kythreotis, A. P. & Schindler, D. W. Honouring Indigenous treaty rights for climate justice. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 798–801 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Corrigan, C. J., Robinson, C., Burgess, N. D., Kingston, N. & Hockings, M. Global review of social indicators used in protected area management evaluation. Conserv. Lett. 11, e12397 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Kohler, F. & Brondizio, E. S. Considering the needs of Indigenous and local populations in conservation programs. Conserv. Biol. 31, 245–251 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Tengö, M. et al. Weaving knowledge systems in IPBES, CBD and beyond—lessons learned for sustainability. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 26–27, 17–25 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Armitage, D., de Loë, R. & Plummer, R. Environmental governance and its implications for conservation practice. Cons. Lett. 5, 245–255 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Convention on Biological Diversity. Akwé: Kon Voluntary Guidelines for the Conduct of Cultural, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Regarding Developments Proposed to Take Place on, or Which Are Likely to Impact on, Sacred Sites and on Lands and Waters Traditionally Occupied or Used by Indigenous and Local Communities (Secretariat Of The Convention On Biological Diversity, Montreal, 2004).

  35. Convention on Biological Diversity. Revised Draft of the Elements of an Ethical Code of Conduct to Ensure Respect for the Cultural and Intellectual Heritage of Indigenous and Local Communities: Note by the Executive Secretary UNEP/CBD/WG8J/6/4 (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, 2009).

  36. Whakatane Mechanism (2018);

  37. Jonas, H. et al. Will OECMs increase recognition and support for ICCAs? PARKS 23, 2 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. IUCN WCPA. Guidelines for Recognising and Reporting Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures, Version 1. (IUCN: Gland, 2017).

  39. Agnoletti, M. (ed.) The Conservation of Cultural Landscapes. (CABI: Wallingford, 2006). .

  40. Wangpakapattanawong, P., Kavinchan, N., Vaidhayakarn, C., Schmidt-Vogt, D. & Elliott, S. Fallow to forest: applying Indigenous and scientific knowledge of swidden cultivation to tropical forest restoration. For. Ecol. Manag. 260, 1399–1406 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Vigilante, T. et al. Collaborative research on the ecology and management of the ‘Wulo’ Monsoon Rainforest in Wunambal Gaambera Country, North Kimberley, Australia. Land 6, 68 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Raymond, C. M. et al. Integrating local and scientific knowledge for environmental management. J. Env. Mgmt. 91, 1766–1777 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Tengö, M., Brondizio, E. S., Elmqvist, T., Malmer, P. & Spierenburg, M. Connecting diverse knowledge systems for enhanced ecosystem governance: the multiple evidence base approach. Ambio 43, 579–591 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Sangha, K. K. et al. An ecosystem services framework to evaluate Indigenous and local peoples’ connections with nature. Ecosys. Serv. 31, 111–125 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Leiper, I. et al. Quantifying current and potential contributions of Australian Indigenous Peoples to threatened species management. Cons. Biol. (in the press).

  46. United Nations Department of Economic Affairs. State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. (United Nations Publications: New York, 2009).

  47. Global Administrative Areas (GADM) v2.8, (2015).

  48. Brooks, T. M. et al. Analysing biodiversity and conservation knowledge products to support regional environmental assessments. Sci. Data 3, 160007 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Venter, O. et al. Data from: Global terrestrial Human Footprint maps for 1993 and 2009. Dryad Digit. Repos. (2016).

  50. Tucker, M. A. et al. Moving in the Anthropocene: global reductions in terrestrial mammalian movements. Science 359, 466–9 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. Jones, K. R. et al. One-third of global protected land is under intense human pressure. Science 360, 788–791 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. Ellis, E. C., Klein Goldewijk, K., Siebert, S., Lightman, D. & Ramankutty, N. Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. Glob. Ecol. Biogeog. 19, 589–606 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  53. Ellis, E. C. Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A: Math. Phys. Eng. Sci. 369, 1010–1035 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephen T. Garnett.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Garnett, S.T., Burgess, N.D., Fa, J.E. et al. A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation. Nat Sustain 1, 369–374 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Anthropocene