An international team of scientists has made a list of Earth's most "irreplaceable" places, highlighting more than 2,300 unique habitats that are key to the survival of rare wildlife. The goal of their research, published in the journal Science, is to help wildlife managers make existing parks and nature preserves more effective at preventing extinction.

"Protected areas can only fulfill their role in reducing biodiversity loss if they are effectively managed," says Simon Stuart, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission, in a press release about the study. "Given limited conservation budgets, that is not always the case, so governments should pay particular attention to the management effectiveness of highly irreplaceable protected areas."

The study offers an irreplaceability score for 2,178 protected areas and 192 proposed sites, ranking their importance to rare wildlife in general and to specific biological groups. It also lists 78 "exceptionally irreplaceable" sites, which host the majority of the populations of some 600 bird, amphibian and mammal species, half of which are threatened. Many of the places already have UNESCO World Heritage protection, but half of the total land they cover does not. That includes the most irreplaceable site on Earth for threatened species, according to the study: Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park.

"These exceptional places would all be strong candidates for World Heritage status," says lead author Soizic Le Saout. "Such recognition would ensure effective protection of the unique biodiversity in these areas, given the rigorous standards required."

Here's a look at a few of the irreplaceable places; see the full list for more information.

Manú National Park, Peru

pepper tree frog

Photo: Vil Sandi/Flickr

Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, U.S.

Hawaiian seabirds

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

Western Ghats, India

Western Ghats

Photo: Prashanth Dotcompals/Flickr

Khao Sok National Park, Thailand


Photo: Kerem Tapani Gültekin/Flickr

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park, Colombia

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Photo: Sémaphorismes/Flickr

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

white ibis

Photo: Umberto Nicoletti/Flickr

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, Madagascar

silky sifakas

Photo: Ralph Kränzlein/Flickr

Apuan Alps, Italy

Apuan Alps

Photo: Jacob/Flickr

Northeast Greenland National Park, Denmark

Greenland iceberg

Photo: Rita Willaert/Flickr

Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

sunset in Tsavo

Photo: Roberto Faccenda/Flickr

Related wildlife conservation stories on MNN:

The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.