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Sci­en­tists iden­tify the world’s most irre­place­able pro­tected areas

pub­lished 17 Novem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

A new sci­en­tific study has iden­ti­fied the pro­tected areas most crit­i­cal to pre­vent­ing extinc­tions of the world’s mam­mals, birds and amphib­ians. Result­ing from an inter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion, this analy­sis pro­vides prac­ti­cal advice for improv­ing the effec­tive­ness of pro­tected areas in con­serv­ing global biodiversity.

Globalmap irreplaceableareasThe study, pub­lished in the 15 Novem­ber edi­tion of the jour­nal Sci­ence, cal­cu­lates the ‘irre­place­abil­ity’ of indi­vid­ual pro­tected areas, based on data on 173,000 ter­res­trial pro­tected areas and assess­ments of 21,500 species on The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™. The analy­sis com­pares the con­tri­bu­tion each pro­tected area makes to the long-​term sur­vival of species.

Seventy-​eight sites (com­pris­ing 137 pro­tected areas in 34 coun­tries) have been iden­ti­fied as excep­tion­ally irre­place­able. Together, they har­bour the major­ity of the pop­u­la­tions of more than 600 birds, amphib­ians, and mam­mals, half of which are glob­ally threatened.

In many cases these areas pro­tect species that can­not be found any­where else, such as the Crit­i­cally Endan­gered Laysan Duck (Anas laysa­nen­sis) endemic to the Hawai­ian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, USA, and the 13 species of amphib­ians restricted to Canaima National Park in Venezuela.

These excep­tional places would all be strong can­di­dates for World Her­itage sta­tus. Such recog­ni­tion would ensure effec­tive pro­tec­tion of the unique bio­di­ver­sity in these areas, given the rig­or­ous stan­dards required for World Her­itage sites
« Soizic Le Saout, lead author, CEFE, France

Many of these irre­place­able areas are already des­ig­nated as being of ‘Out­stand­ing Uni­ver­sal Value’ under the UNESCO World Her­itage Con­ven­tion. These sites include Ecuador’s famed Galá­pa­gos Islands, Peru’s Manú National Park, and India’s West­ern Ghats.

Colombia sierranevadasantamarta mapHow­ever, half of the land cov­ered by these areas does not have World Her­itage recog­ni­tion. This includes for exam­ple Tanzania’s Udzungwa Moun­tains National Park, Cuba’s Cié­naga de Zap­ata Wet­land of Inter­na­tional Impor­tance, and — the most irre­place­able site in the world for threat­ened species — Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Nat­ural National Park.

Unlike pre­vi­ous assess­ments that focussed on increas­ing the num­ber of pro­tected sites, this study high­lights the need for, and pro­vides guid­ance for, improv­ing the often insuf­fi­cient man­age­ment of exist­ing pro­tected areas. “Páramo Urrao National Pro­tec­tive Forests Reserves, in Colom­bia, for exam­ple, does not really exist,” says Paul Sala­man, an expert in Colom­bian bio­di­ver­sity and CEO of the Rain­for­est Trust. “It was legally cre­ated in 1975, but this was never trans­lated into on-​the-​ground management.”

“Pro­tected areas can only ful­fil their role in reduc­ing bio­di­ver­sity loss if they are effec­tively man­aged,” says Simon Stu­art, chair of the IUCN Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion. “Given lim­ited con­ser­va­tion bud­gets, that is not always the case, so gov­ern­ments should pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the man­age­ment effec­tive­ness of highly irre­place­able pro­tected areas.”

This study builds on work under­taken by an exten­sive net­work of experts to gather and analyse data for The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™ and the World Data­base on Pro­tected Areas. It is the result of an inter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Cen­tre for Func­tional and Evo­lu­tion­ary Ecol­ogy (CEFE) in France, IUCN (Inter­na­tional Union for Nature Con­ser­va­tion) through its Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion and World Com­mis­sion on Pro­tected Areas, the World Con­ser­va­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre (UNEP-​WCMC), and BirdLife Inter­na­tional. It comes exactly a year before the World Parks Con­gress, the lead­ing event for pro­tected areas, which will be held in Syd­ney and will set the agenda for their con­ser­va­tion for the com­ing decade.

(Source: IUCN Red List news release, 14.11.2013)

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