A new scientific study has identified the protected areas most critical to preventing extinctions of the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians. Resulting from an international collaboration, this analysis provides practical advice for improving the effectiveness of protected areas in conserving global biodiversity.
The study, published in the latest edition of international journal Science, calculates the ‘irreplaceability’ of individual protected areas, based on data on 173,000 terrestrial protected areas and assessments of 21,500 species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The analysis compares the contribution each protected area makes to the long-term survival of species.
Seventy-eight sites (comprising 137 protected areas in 34 countries) have been identified as exceptionally irreplaceable. Together, they harbour the majority of the populations of more than 600 birds, amphibians, and mammals, half of which are globally threatened.
In many cases these areas protect species that cannot be found anywhere else, such as the Critically Endangered Laysan Duck (Anas laysanensis) endemic to the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, USA, and the 13 species of amphibians restricted to Canaima National Park in Venezuela.
Many of these irreplaceable areas are already designated as being of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. These sites include Ecuador’s famed Galápagos Islands, Peru’s Manú National Park, and India’s Western Ghats.
However, half of the land covered by these areas does not have World Heritage recognition. This includes for example Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Cuba’s Ciénaga de Zapata Wetland of International Importance, and – the most irreplaceable site in the world for threatened species – Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park.
“These exceptional places would all be strong candidates for World Heritage status,” says Soizic Le Saout, lead author of the study. “Such recognition would ensure effective protection of the unique biodiversity in these areas, given the rigorous standards required for World Heritage sites.”
Unlike previous assessments that focussed on increasing the number of protected sites, this study highlights the need for, and provides guidance for, improving the often insufficient management of existing protected areas.“Páramo Urrao National Protective Forests Reserves, in Colombia, for example, does not really exist,” says Paul Salaman, an expert in Colombian biodiversity and CEO of the Rainforest Trust. “It was legally created in 1975, but this was never translated into on-the-ground management”.
“Protected areas can only fulfil their role in reducing biodiversity loss if they are effectively managed,” says Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “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.”
This study builds on work undertaken by an extensive network of experts to gather and analyse data for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and the World Database on Protected Areas. It is the result of an international collaboration between the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE) in France, IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation) through its Species Survival Commission and World Commission on Protected Areas, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), and BirdLife International. It comes exactly a year before the World Parks Congress, the leading event for protected areas, which will be held in Sydney and will set the agenda for their conservation for the coming decade.
To assist in informing management priorities in individual protected areas, this study highlights species for which each area has particularly high global conservation responsibility. This information is available here (www.irreplaceability.cefe.cnrs.fr)
About The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or The IUCN Red List) is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.
Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘Threatened’.
The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions. www.iucnredlist.org
About the World Database on Protected Areas
The World Database on Protected Areas is a foundation dataset for conservation decision making. It contains crucial information from national governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, international biodiversity convention secretariats and many others. It is used for ecological gap analysis, environmental impact analysis and is increasingly used for private sector decision-making. www.protectedplanet.net
About the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE)
The Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CEFE) is the largest French research center in Ecology, dedicated to independent, fundamental scientific research on the dynamics of biodiversity, planetary environmental change, and sustainable development. It operates as a mixed research unit composed of staff from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the universities of Montpellier and several other research institutions. www.cefe.cnrs.fr
IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. IUCN supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world, and brings governments, NGOs, the UN and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. www.iucn.org
About the Species Survival Commission
The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 7,500 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation, and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation.
About the World Commission on Protected Areas
The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) is the world’s premier network of protected area expertise. It is administered by IUCN’s Global Programme on Protected Areas and has over 1,700 members, spanning 140 countries.
About UNEP WCMC
The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organization, and WCMC, a UK-based charity. UNEP-WCMC is UNEP’s specialist biodiversity assessment arm, and the Centre for UNEP’s collaboration with WCMC. www.unep-wcmc.org
About BirdLife International
BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership. BirdLife is the world leader in bird conservation. Rigorous science informed by practical feedback from projects on the ground in important sites and habitats enables us to implement successful conservation programmes for birds and all nature.www.birdlife.org