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Conservation opportunities on uncontested lands


Competition for land resources is intense, with growing demand for food and resources to support humanity. Despite this, global agricultural area has significantly declined over the past two decades due to socio–political trends, market changes and environmental degradation. Although expensive, restoring degraded lands that are no longer contested for agricultural use due to low productivity may present a major conservation opportunity with minimal social or political opposition. Here we present a new perspective for conservation that highlights the potential conservation value of uncontested lands. We highlight key factors that make lands uncontested, define an approach for evaluating costs and benefits on uncontested land parcels and propose methods for identifying these lands.

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Fig. 1: Annual costs and benefits of acquiring and restoring land.
Fig. 2: Global changes in agricultural and pasture land.
Fig. 3: Classification of uncontested lands in the context of low- and high-productivity land.
Fig. 4: Potential cost patterns of four restoration project scenarios.


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This work was funded by the Australian Research Council—Discovery Project ‘Global extent of degraded farm lands and their conservation potential’ (ARC-DP170101480). E.M.M. was supported by an ARC Future Fellowship and Z.X. was supported by ARC-DP and the Natural Science Foundation of China (project no. 41801262). We thank S. Brisbane for providing final checks and edits on this manuscript.

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E.M.M. and E.T.G. conceived the initial idea, and all authors developed the concepts and structure of the Perspective. All authors contributed equally to further content development, writing and revisions of the manuscript on their specific expertise.

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Correspondence to Eve McDonald-Madden.

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Xie, Z., Game, E.T., Hobbs, R.J. et al. Conservation opportunities on uncontested lands. Nat Sustain 3, 9–15 (2020).

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