Protected Areas Don't Protect Many Endangered Species, Study Finds

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"While the importance of this park is not being questioned, it contributes little to coverage of global species diversity," said study co-author Ana Rodrigues, a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Applied Biodiversity Science.

Rodrigues says this is because the Arctic region is naturally species poor—the park was found to contain just eight mammals, while no amphibians, freshwater turtles, or globally threatened birds were recorded.

In contrast, Mount Kinabalu Park, in northern Borneo, is a thousand times smaller than Greenland National Park at 300 square miles (800 square kilometers) and has 153 mammals (21 globally threatened), 17 globally threatened birds, 74 amphibians (14 threatened), and eight freshwater turtles (six threatened).

Rodrigues says such regions aren't necessarily without any protection, but urgently require additional coverage. The majority are in tropical and subtropical countries—for example, the Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, which boasts many endemic species.

The forest overlaps the most densely populated region of Brazil, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with 18 and 11 million people, respectively. "Most of the original ecosystem has been destroyed, and only about 7 percent remains, mainly in very fragmented patches. Much more protection is needed for this region," Rodrigues said.

Unprotected, critically endangered animals highlighted in the report include the Comoro black flying fox (a fruit bat) from Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean; several brightly-colored mantella frogs found only in Madagascar; the yellow-eared parrot of the Colombian Andes; and the Burmese star tortoise from Myanmar.

Mantella Frog

"Such species of very narrow range will simply fall through the cracks if protected areas are not located very strategically," Rodrigues said. "For example, the critically endangered black-eared mantella frog is known only from an unprotected 20-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) area in Madagascar."

The study found that groups of animals with similarly small range sizes had the highest proportion of species living outside wildlife reserves and national parks. The team suggests other organisms with high levels of endemism (restricted or peculiar to a locality), such as plants and insects, are even less well represented inside the sanctuaries.

Rodrigues says conservation targets based purely on land area covered are politically appealing, because they provide a straightforward goal which is easy to measure.

But, Rodrigues added: "They do not provide any restrictions as to where those, say, 10 percent [of protected areas] should be located. This gives governments plenty of flexibility on how to achieve those targets, but it also means it's tempting to declare most protected areas in regions of lower economic interest—which are politically less challenging but frequently not the most valuable for conservation."

The risk of this approach is that once a country's conservation target is reached, subsequent protection is stalled, even if wildlife most at risk is located elsewhere.

Conservation International spokesperson Luba Vangelova said the new study "points to the need for a more targeted approach to conservation planning, lest the world's most threatened species drop off the planet even as the total protected area continues to increase."

For more biodiversity news, scroll down for related stories and links.

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