In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world’s land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world’s plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world’s land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world’s plants.
“To achieve these goals, we need to protect more land, on average, than we currently do, and much more in key places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and Ecuador,” explains co-author Stuart Pimm with Duke University and the NGO Saving Species. “Our study identifies regions of importance. The logical—and very challenging—next step will be to make tactical local decisions within those regions to secure the most critical land for conservation.”
The researchers scoured plant data from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England to find hotspots of endemic species, i.e. species regulated to a single location or region.
“Species endemic to small geographical ranges are at a much higher risk of being threatened or endangered than those with large ranges,” explains lead author Lucas Joppa at Cambridge.
Not surprisingly, the priority areas identified for plant conservation start with many of the world’s islands, such as Caribbean, Pacific, and Mediterranean islands. Next come countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Taiwan, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and South Africa. Outside of national boundaries, the study also found important regions such as India’s Western Ghats, montane and coastal forests in East and West Africa, and southwestern Australia.
“We are not suggesting that we could protect all of these regions and nothing else, but this hypothetical 17% sets the bar for achieving [both the CBD goals],” the researchers write in the paper.
Targeting such areas would also go a long way toward protecting Earth’s animals.
“Our selected regions are important for terrestrial vertebrates. We find that 89% of bird species, 80% of amphibians, and 74% of mammals live within them,” the researchers note.
Currently, around 13 percent of the world’s land areas are under some form of protection, however, these protected areas have been created more along political lines than biodiversity ones.
“Present conservation efforts bias toward lands that are high, cold, dry, or otherwise far from people—often a mismatch with where conservation needs are pressing,” the researchers write.
If the 17 percent target set by the CBD will help maintain global biodiversity (and stem global extinctions overall—another goal of the CBD), conservationists and policy-makers will have to focus more on regions of high biodiversity and high endemism.
Researchers from the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families collecting plant species. Photo courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photo by: Charlie Fong.
CITATION: L. Joppa; P. Visconti; C.N. Jenkins; S.L. Pimm. Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Goals for Plant Conservation. Science. 2013.
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