- To assess the state of biodiversity in protected tropical forests, researchers monitored 244 species of ground-dwelling mammals and birds in 15 protected tropical areas in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.
- The team analyzed more than 2.5 million pictures captured by over 1,000 camera traps.
- The researchers say their findings portray a “more optimistic outlook” regarding the impacts of establishing protected areas in tropical forests.
Contrary to reports of declining biodiversity in protected tropical forests, the authors of an extensive study published this week in the journal PLOS Biology say they found no evidence of an overall decline in the number and distribution of species in protected areas.
Species loss is alarmingly high around the world, with recent research suggesting we have entered a sixth global mass extinction event. According to the Living Planet Index, we lost 52 percent of the world’s vertebrate species — amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish — between 1970 and 2010.
Species loss is especially severe in tropical regions, Lydia Beaudrot, a professor at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. While less than 20 percent of Earth’s surface is covered in tropical forests, they’re believed to be home to half of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
“Protected areas, such as national parks, are the cornerstone of species conservation, but whether protected areas really sustain animal populations and prevent extinction has been debated,” Beaudrot said. “This is particularly true for tropical areas, which are oftentimes understudied and for which there is a lack of high-quality data.”
Beaudrot and the other authors of the PLOS Biology paper are researchers with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), a coalition that includes Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
To assess the state of biodiversity in protected tropical forests, the TEAM researchers monitored 244 species of ground-dwelling mammals and birds in 15 protected tropical areas in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.
After analyzing more than 2.5 million pictures captured by over 1,000 camera traps, they say they found population increases amongst 17 percent of the species they had been monitoring, while 22 percent of species’ population numbers remained constant and 22 percent decreased.
That means that the number and distribution of species in these areas did not decline overall during the timeframe of the study, which suggests that biodiversity did not decline overall.
“At a time when environmental concerns are taking center stage, these results show that protected areas play an important role in maintaining biodiversity,” Jorge Ahumada, executive director of the TEAM Network and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Ahumada said that the study’s findings portray a “more optimistic outlook” regarding the impacts of establishing protected areas in tropical forest biodiversity hotspots.
Perhaps more importantly, TEAM is also making its datasets available to everyone, in the hopes they can help better inform management decisions in tropical forest conservation areas.
“For the first time we are not relying on disparate data sources, but rather using primary data collected in a standardized way across a range of protected areas throughout the world,” Ahumada added. “With this data we have created a public resource that can be used by governments or others in the conservation community to inform decisions.”
The protected areas that TEAM monitors have already begun putting the study’s data to use. After the researchers identified a decline in the area occupied by the African golden cat in certain parts of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest that were heavily trafficked by eco-tourists, park managers started redirecting travelers to other trails.
TEAM reports that, “Since these management actions went into effect, there has been an increase in sightings of the African golden cat.”
- Beaudrot, L., Ahumada, J.A., O’Brien, T., Alvarez-Loayza, P., Boekee, K., Campos-Arceiz, A., et al. (2016) Standardized Assessment of Biodiversity Trends in Tropical Forest Protected Areas: The End Is Not in Sight. PLoS Biol 14(1): e1002357. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002357