Calculated too narrowly: Protecting biodiversity needs more space – Knowledge

It’s a hard line, but it’s not visible. There is no fence as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania borders the lands of the people who live there. Transfers are carried out in both directions regularly. This is not only the case in Africa’s most famous national park, but almost everywhere where protected areas meet inhabited and cultivated lands.

In three recent studies, researchers have addressed the question of whether protected areas located around the world can live up to their name and truly protect and ensure the survival of the species found there. Their results are unequivocal: if it was not possible not only to preserve ecologically sound areas, but also to expand them and connect them with others, then many animal species would become extinct.

The biodiversity in today’s protected areas dates back to the times when habitats were greater. Today, wild animals sometimes graze next to livestock on pastures, sometimes plunder fields or kill domestic animals. Pastoralists pay their livestock to graze in protected areas where they can transmit local diseases to wildlife, and poaching is a widespread problem. For people, it is about fighting poverty, for wild animals, it is about survival.

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Endangered and never before threatened animal species are in distress

Roughly half of the world’s terrestrial mammals (44 to 65 percent) could become extinct because current protected areas are not enough, David Williams of Britain’s University of Leeds and colleagues report in the journal “PNAS”. Researchers predict that the surrounding unprotected areas will continue to deteriorate over the course of this century due to population growth and human use. The survival of many terrestrial vertebrates depends on protected areas.

However, an analysis of data from about 4,000 animal species shows that protected areas are not sufficient for most species already threatened with extinction, but also for a third of species not currently classified as threatened. Hundreds of species do not have long-term viable populations within safe limits. Williams and colleagues report that large mammals, endemic species with a small distribution area, and fauna in species-rich tropics are particularly threatened.

“Our results indicate that the global network of protected areas needs to be expanded significantly, especially to include protected areas in different regions that also contain currently unprotected species,” the scientists wrote. In addition, each area must be large enough to ensure the long-term survival of the protected species there.

The Aichi Target for 2020 has yet to be achieved

A research team led by James Allan of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has estimated the minimum area required to secure areas of significant biodiversity, environmentally sound areas and areas of optimal distribution with many species and types of ecosystems. As the team now reports in the specialist journal Science, about 64 million square kilometers of land should be placed under protection – that’s 44 percent of the Earth’s land area.

People don’t always have to be denied entry. Alternatively, measures can range from restrictions on use to strict protections. More than two-thirds of this area is yet unclaimed. More than 1.8 billion people currently live in the remaining third. “Measures to promote autonomy, self-determination, equity and sustainable management to protect biodiversity are essential,” the authors wrote.

Modeling of future land use shows that 1.3 million square kilometers are likely to be transformed by humans within this decade, “which requires immediate attention.” However, in the optimistic scenarios, the occupied area decreases significantly, which indicates the possibility of avoiding this crisis. The authors propose “appropriate targets” in protecting global biodiversity. Retention of the areas identified in the study would make a significant contribution to the protection of biodiversity.

A grizzly bear has been caught in a camera trap on a logging road in the South Chilcoten Mountains in British Columbia, Canada.Photo: Robin Naidoo

Aichi Target 11, named after the site of the Japanese conference, was drafted as part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Accordingly, by 2020, at least 17 percent of the Earth’s land area should be protected. This goal was not achieved, and researchers consider it insufficient anyway.

“Conservation means allowing natural processes in large enough areas,” Valerie Koki of the Frankfurt Zoological Society told Tagesspiegel. Because of global warming, many species are no longer able to survive in their current range. “We reduce the risk of further extinctions if we allow species to change their distribution areas,” Köcke explains. Protected areas must provide sufficient space for such operations, or they will have to be created by corridors between protected areas.

Functional abbreviations and people support

A team led by Angela Brennan of the University of British Columbia in Canada has studied the connectivity of existing protected areas around the world by modeling the movements of medium to large mammals. Scientists have identified areas of land that could connect existing protected areas, particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Africa.

The most important linkage methods are threatened by human intervention. For the functional linkage of the protected areas, new additional areas must be created, but above all, people’s use of the trails must be compatible. Together, both strategies can maximize the benefit, the researchers write in the journal Sciences.

“However, this is only possible if there are no ‘hard edges,'” says Cook. These are the boundaries between protected areas and the densely populated landscapes that people use. This is where conflicts between humans and wildlife occur as they compete for space resources. “If protected areas cannot be surrounded by buffer zones with less land use, intensive collaboration between conservation and local communities is required,” says Köcke.This also includes supporting them in developing sustainable sources of income.

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