The few remaining intact forests that are free from damaging human activities need special protection to meet conservation and climate goals, scientists said in a new study.
With over 80 percent of forests already degraded by human and industrial activities, the study published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution emphasizes the exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems.
The research was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and included researchers from the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden.
There is emerging evidence that an intact forest supports an exceptional mix of globally significant environmental values, including biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, water provision, indigenous culture and the maintenance of human health, the study said.
Researchers said maintaining and wherever possible, restoring, intact forests is an urgent priority for current global efforts to halt the ongoing biodiversity crisis, slow rapid climate change, and achieve sustainability goals.
Retaining the integrity of intact forest ecosystems should be a central component of proactive global and national environmental strategies, alongside current efforts aimed at halting deforestation and promoting reforestation, it said.
"In addition to compromising livelihoods and being a vast source of compounds of medical importance, the removal and degradation of intact forests have been repeatedly linked to changing disease risks in humans," Kris Murray, co-author of the study, said.