Most of what we hear about the state of biodiversity is bleak—usually more species are severely threatened and going extinct. Perhaps you think that what we do contribute to help the world’s plants and animals does little to help. A study published in Nature has just proved that conservation money in the past 25 years has made a huge difference in saving the world’s biodiversity.
Recently, governments and citizens have realized that the other species in the world are in tremendous danger of becoming extinct because of us. The first step towards actions was the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The meeting ultimately led to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the first infusion of global conservation funding. The international research team that led this study found that the 109 countries that signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and that increased their conservation budget accordingly had significantly lower biodiversity loss. Additionally, $14.4 billion in total has been spent on conservation worldwide from 1992 to 2003. This investment had the tremendous impact of reducing global diversity declines by 29%.
“This paper sends a clear, positive message: Conservation funding works,” said senior author John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.
The researchers looked at the change in each country’s biodiversity from 1996 to 2008 and targeted conservation funding from 1992 to 2003. The biodiversity loss data was provided by the IUCN, which is responsible for the endangerment status of species. They have been keeping track of the conservation status of species for more than 50 years. The authors then determined how much each country is responsible for one species decline, by looking at the proportion of a species range in a country.
Seven countries are responsible for 60% of the world’s total biodiversity loss: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia, and the USA. On a more positive note, seven countries have seen their biodiversity improve: Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Poland, and the Ukraine.
“The good news is that a lot of biodiversity would be protected for relatively little cost by investments in developing countries with high numbers of species. This model provides a framework we can use to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity, ” said Gittleman.
The main reason for species decline is that humans are taking over habitat and the animals and plants have to make do with less ideal space. Human development was also taken into account as the researchers looked at data on each country’s population growth, economic growth, and agricultural expansion. Development pressure increased species decline, as one would expect, but not in an even way. The country’s size, number of species, and conservation status from the start of the study were all important in determining how development affected biodiversity. Conservation spending was the most effective in countries that are poorer and have more threatened species.
Now that we know that it works, countries don’t have any excuse not to fund conservation research. From this study, we know approximately how much a conservation dollar buys and where in the world it is best spent; policymakers can plan their budgets and goals more accurately. As pressures on the environment increase, spending has to follow suit, in order to make a difference. It is heartening to know that our efforts to save biodiversity are making a real difference.
Journal reference: Anthony Waldron, Daniel C. Miller, Dave Redding, Arne Mooers, Tyler S. Kuhn, Nate Nibbelink, J. Timmons Roberts, Joseph A. Tobias, John L. Gittleman. Reductions in global biodiversity loss predicted from conservation spending. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature24295