March 22, 2012
Macaya reserve in the Massif de la Hotte, southwest Haiti, is the number one AZE site containing 13 frog species found nowhere else in the world. Photo © Robin Moore/iLCP.
"Shockingly, half of the most important sites for nature conservation have not yet been protected," said Stuart Butchart, Global Research and Indicators Coordinator with Birdlife International, which identifies IBAs worldwide. “And only one-third to one-fifth of sites are completely protected—the remainder are only partially covered by protected areas."
Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are defined by ecosystems containing endangered birds or bird species restricted to a particular area. In addition, IBAs include vital wetland and marine areas. In all, BirdLife International has identified 10,993 IBAs, of which 49 percent lack protection. Less numerous, but more critical, are the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites. These areas target species listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List—from mammals to plants—which are in addition restricted to one locality. In other words if their habitat is destroyed, extinction is a foregone conclusion; one could refer to them as a step away from extinction. AZE has identified 588 such sites worldwide, but 51 percent are unprotected. The 414 Endangered or Critically Endangered species living in these unprotected habitats "will likely be part of the next wave of extinctions unless urgent action is taken," the study warns.
Worldwide around 13 percent of the land's surface is under some form of protection, and global governments have agreed to expand that to 17 percent by 2020. While the study agrees that "there has been considerable progress towards meeting global protected areas targets," it also notes that this has not translated into protection for many species. The study's authors argue that in the future governments should target unprotected IBAs and AZE sites for expanding protected areas. Some countries—such as the EU, Madagascar, Nicaragua, and the Philippines—have already turned to IBAs and AZE for conservation planning.
"With the global population projected to skyrocket over the next 30 years, so will our demand for natural resources. Protecting those remaining pockets of nature will be crucial if we want to have food, water and a host of other vital benefits that that will allow us to survive and prosper," said co-author Frank Larsen Conservation International.
Of course, conservation doesn't end with putting aside an area for protection. Many of the world's protected areas are little more than "paper parks", set aside by government but plundered of their natural resources due to a lack of enforcement. Adequate management of the unprotected IBAs and AZE sites would cost around $23 billion annually, according to a "crude" estimate by the paper's authors.
"Such sums may seem large, but they are tiny by comparison to the value of the benefits that people obtain from biodiversity. These 'ecosystem services', such as pollination of crops, water purification and climate regulation, have been estimated to be worth trillions of dollars each year," said Butchart.
Birders beware: climate change could push 600 tropical birds into extinction
(02/21/2012) There may be less birds for birders to see in the world as the planet warms. Climate change, in combination with deforestation, could send between 100 and 2,500 tropical birds to extinction before the end of century, according to new research published in Biological Conservation. The wide range depends on the extent of climate and how much habitat is lost, but researchers say the most likely range of extinctions is between 600 and 900 species, meaning about 10-14 percent of tropical birds, excluding migratory species.
The camera trap revolution: how a simple device is shaping research and conservation worldwide
(02/14/2012) I must confess to a recent addiction: camera trap photos. When the Smithsonian released 202,000 camera trap photos to the public online, I couldn’t help but spend hours transfixed by the private world of animals. There was the golden snub-monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana), with its unmistakably blue face staring straight at you, captured on a trail in the mountains of China. Or a southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), a tree anteater that resembles a living Muppet, poking its nose in the leaf litter as sunlight plays on its head in the Peruvian Amazon. Or the dim body of a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) led by jewel-like eyes in the Tanzanian night. Or the less exotic red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which admittedly appears much more exotic when shot in China in the midst of a snowstorm. Even the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), an animal I too often connect with cartoons and stuffed animals, looks wholly real and wild when captured by camera trap: no longer a symbol or even a pudgy bear at the zoo, but a true animal with its own inner, mysterious life.
Unanimous agreement among scientists: Earth to suffer major loss in species
(11/09/2011) The thylacine, the dodo, the great auk, the passenger pigeon, the golden toad: these species have become symbols of extinction. But they are only the tip of the recent extinction crisis, and according to a survey of 583 conservation scientists, they are only the beginning. In a new survey in Conservation Biology, 99.5 percent of conservation scientists said a serious loss in biodiversity was either 'likely', 'very likely', or 'virtually certain'. The prediction of a significant loss of species is not surprising—scientists have been warning for decades that if global society continues with business as usual the world will suffer from mass extinction—what is perhaps surprising is the practically unanimous expectation that a global biodiversity decline will occur.
Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity
(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.
Humanity knows less than 15 percent of the world's species
(08/23/2011) Scientists have named, cataloged, and described less than 2 million species in the past two and a half centuries, yet, according to an new innovative analysis, we are no-where near even a basic understanding of the diversity of life on this small blue planet. The study in PLoS Biology, which is likely to be controversial, predicts that there are 8.7 million species in the world, though the number could be as low as 7.4 or as high as 10 million. The research implies that about 86 percent of the world's species have still yet to be described.
Over 80 percent of rediscovered species still face extinction
(08/18/2011) Imagine if your job was to locate extinct species. In 2010, biologists with The Search for Lost Frogs set out on a tropical mission hoping to confirm the existence of frog species not seen in decades. The team recovered proof of four out of a hundred missing species, including a toad among the expedition's Top Ten Amphibians list. According to a new study study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, such biological surveys are critical conservation tools to prevent the 'romeo error': the abandonment of conservation efforts due to belief that a species is extinct. The study, the first of its kind, found that rediscovered species are especially in danger of vanishing again, this time altogether, without targeted conservation measures.