Earth’s ecosystems classified for first time in global study

13 Oct 2022

Image: © Philip Steury/

The researchers said this is the first common platform of Earth’s various ecosystems and will enable more coordinated and effective biodiversity conservation.

A global team including researchers from Trinity College Dublin have classified the Earth’s various ecosystems for the first time.

This typology covers ecosystems across the Earth’s land, rivers, wetlands and seas. The researchers said it will enable more coordinated and effective biodiversity conservation.

The typology describes the diversity of tropical forests, big rivers, coral reefs and other ecosystems that have typically been the focus of public attention. It also includes lesser-known ecosystems such as deep ocean trenches, seamounts and lakes beneath the ice sheets.

“At a policy level, this platform gives us a standardised and holistic perspective on all the world’s ecosystems, which is something we have never had before,” said Trinity’s Prof Ian Donohue, who is a co-author of the study. “For the first time, a globally agreed typology enables the many different national systems to be reconciled across national borders, while supporting their ongoing use in each individual country.”

The study published in Nature was led by UNSW Sydney researchers. The collaboration included the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which comprises around 1,400 member organisations and more than 100 specialist ecosystem scientists.

This typology can help people understand broad global patterns, including the transformation of ecosystems by people. The team said 10pc of ecosystems are artificially created and maintained by humans but these areas occupy more than 30pc of the Earth’s land surface.

The rest of Earth’s ecosystems are home to 94pc of species that are threatened, according to the IUCN Red List.

The research team was led by UNSW Prof David Keith, who said it is the “first time” that a common platform identifies, defines and describes the full suite of Earth’s ecosystems.

“It may seem rather odd that we haven’t had this before but, historically, scientists have forged advances by working somewhat separately in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems,” Keith said. “This is the first time that all of this detailed knowledge has been brought together into a single framework taking advantage of common theory across the disciplines.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic