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Can eco­tourism save endan­gered species from going extinct?

pub­lished 21 Feb­ru­ary 2016 | mod­i­fied 21 Feb­ru­ary 2016

Ecotourism cheetah with preyEco­tourism can pro­vide the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence between sur­vival and extinc­tion for endan­gered ani­mals, accord­ing to new research from Grif­fith University.

Using pop­u­la­tion via­bil­ity mod­el­ling, the Grif­fith team of Pro­fes­sor Ralf Buck­ley, Dr Guy Cast­ley and Dr Clare Mor­ri­son has devel­oped a method that for the first time quan­ti­fies the impact of eco­tourism on threat­ened species. The team pub­lished their find­ings in the 17 Feb­ru­ary issue of the jour­nal PLOS ONE.

We con­verted all eco­tourism effects — pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive — to eco­log­i­cal para­me­ters and found that for seven of the species involved, eco­tourism pro­vides net con­ser­va­tion gains
Ralf C. Buck­ley, lead author, School of Envi­ron­ment, Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity, Australia »

We know that eco­tourism is increas­ing on a global scale, with vis­i­tor num­bers to many pro­tected areas expand­ing each year. We also know that such activ­i­ties can have neg­a­tive as well as pos­i­tive impacts,” said Pro­fes­sor Buck­ley, Griffith’s Inter­na­tional Chair in Eco­tourism Research. “Until now, how­ever, there has been no way to eval­u­ate the net effect of eco­tourism in increas­ing or decreas­ing the risk of extinc­tion for endan­gered species, which is the key para­me­ter for con­ser­va­tion efforts.”

Pop­u­la­tion via­bil­ity mod­els are widely used in prac­ti­cal wildlife man­age­ment. They esti­mate cumu­la­tive pop­u­la­tion changes by sim­u­lat­ing births and deaths iter­a­tively, one gen­er­a­tion at a time. Final pre­dic­tions are based on thou­sands of repeated simulations.

The Grif­fith sci­en­tists used the mod­els to cal­cu­late future pop­u­la­tion changes for nine threat­ened species for which data exists — the orang­utan, hoolock gib­bon, golden lion tamarin, chee­tah, African wild dog, New Zealand sealion, African pen­guin, great green macaw and Egypt­ian vulture.

Ecotourism effect on population size of endangered speciesPop­u­la­tion tra­jec­to­ries, incor­po­rat­ing joint net effects of eco­tourism at dif­fer­ent lev­els for dif­fer­ent species and sub­pop­u­la­tions.
Timescale: ver­ti­cal dashed line = 2050.
Eco­tourism lev­els: black lines, nil; red, low; blue, medium; green, high.

Credit: Buck­ley RC, Mor­ri­son C, Cast­ley JG (2016) Net Effects of Eco­tourism on Threat­ened Species Sur­vival. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0147988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147988

We con­verted all eco­tourism effects — pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive — to eco­log­i­cal para­me­ters and found that for seven of the species involved, eco­tourism pro­vides net con­ser­va­tion gains through fac­tors such as pri­vate reserves, habi­tat restora­tion, reduc­tion in habi­tat dam­age, removal of feral preda­tors, anti-​poaching mea­sures or cap­tive breed­ing and food sup­ple­men­ta­tion,” said Pro­fes­sor Buckley.

Dr Cast­ley, from Griffith’s Envi­ron­men­tal Futures Research Insti­tute, said the research demon­strates how the net effects of tourism dif­fer among species and sub-​populations and that these effects are influ­enced by local cir­cum­stances. “For exam­ple, they depend on the scale and inten­sity of eco­tourism, the size of ini­tial pop­u­la­tions, rates of pre­da­tion and on the impacts of other indus­tries such as fish­ing and log­ging,” he said. “Other fac­tors, includ­ing poach­ing, are also important.”

Grif­fith School of Environment’s Dr Mor­ri­son said the research con­firms that eco­tourism is not always suc­cess­ful. “In a few cases, this can have a net neg­a­tive effect on threat­ened species,” she said.

“How­ever, for most of the rare and endan­gered bird and mam­mal species analysed, eco­tourism makes the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence between sur­vival and extinction.”

(Source: Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity news release, 18.02.2016)

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