Biodiversity benefits from a small increase in protected areas

Small changes in the right places can sometimes make a big difference. That’s exactly what scientists found when they were looking at what benefits nature parks, game reserves and reserves could offer to the conservation of the birds and mammals that inhabit them.

In it, lead author Laura Pollock and colleagues found that if we could increase protected area land by just 5% in conservation priority areas, the number of protected species would increase by a factor of three. discovered.

In this study, scientists mapped the areas that are now protected areas, tallying the number of mammal and bird species known to those areas, as well as biodiversity and two other species “aspects” (ecosystems). We also considered the functional roles of various animals in physiology, and the unique evolutionary milestones that animals have undergone over millions of years.

A targeted 5% increase in the land area of ​​the reserve will further protect not only the number of species but also aspects of the other two species.

“Most conservation efforts are looking at species,” said Pollock, an ecologist at the University of Grenoble Alps in France, in an interview. Conservation efforts are primarily focused on identifying threatened areas that could be biodiversity hotspots and conserving wildlife. Despite this, researchers report that 26% of birds and mammals do not appear in most reserves.

“Simply targeting biodiversity hotspots is not the most efficient method,” she said. “Maybe we’re overlooking an important species.”

They also found serious gaps in the protection of functional and phylogenetic diversity.

The team of scientists thought about what would happen if they carefully selected land that was important for the biodiversity of the other two species and extended the boundaries of the reserve to include that land. Pollock said he was “surprised” to see so much overlap between the three aspects, adding: “This means that if we select the most important regions of the world, we can bring together different types of biodiversity. can be saved as

We don’t protect just for animals. “Species are very important for ecosystem function,” she added. In addition, “ecosystem services” provided by nature are indispensable for human beings.

For example, birds contribute to the health of carbon-storing forests by dispersing seeds, and hungry bats reduce the number of persistent mosquitoes (which may be pathogen-carrying mosquitoes).

In addition, we have learned that some animals have an evolutionary history that spans millions of years, thanks to the rapid development of genetic analysis data in recent years.

“This analysis would not have been possible 10 years ago,” Pollock said.

Species with unique genes or threatened with extinction are listed on the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE List . “EDGE” is an abbreviation for “Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered”.

The Asian elephant (scientific name: Elephas maximus ) and the Sumatran rhinoceros (scientific name: Dicerorhinus sumatrensis ), which are symbolic species for environmental protection , are listed as EDGE species, and among them, the three-toed echidna (scientific name: Zaglossus spp ) is the top mammal. A relative of the platypus, the egg-laying mammal echidnas surprisingly diverged from other mammals 160 million years ago. Two of the three Echidna species are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Nevertheless, Pollock said most conservation efforts haven’t focused on the echidna. that these animals are of great importance to “genetic diversity and ancestral natural heritage” and that protecting their habitats would be beneficial to the biodiversity of the planet; is revealed in this survey.

“The reserves that are currently in place are not being identified in the best possible way. More biodiversity could be saved if we put them in the right places,” she said.

That said, Pollock said he doesn’t want to see existing conservation plans that currently address the biodiversity crisis go to waste.

“But maybe with a little more work we can save more species,” she said. “We admit we can’t do everything, but we can use our newly discovered information about what is important to the world’s biodiversity populations to tweak existing conservation plans.”

It may not be realistic to expect a 5% increase in protected area land worldwide, but the method can be applied on a small scale.

“You can still use the methods you’ve been using,” Pollock said. The data, recently added to the Map of Life website run by Yale University, show that better-sited reserves using this method locally could increase the amount of biodiversity that would be protected . The number can be increased considerably.

“We don’t necessarily need to triple the amount of biodiversity,” she added. “Even a 10% increase would be a lot better than it is now.”

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