There has been controversy over the effectiveness of protected areas, but the new study shows they do conserve biodiversity.

Protected areas proven to conserve biodiversity

Protected areas such as nature reserves and national parks do conserve biodiversity and more action is needed to ensure safeguards are in place to preserve them, according to a new international study.

Researchers from Australia, South Africa and the UK examined the results of studies from the past 30 years into protected areas to determine their effect on biodiversity.

Professor Kevin Gaston, Director of the Environment & Sustainability Institute (ESI) at the University of Exeter, said protecting an area from human exploitation made common sense, however, up until now there had been little evidence to determine whether these conservation areas actually protected biodiversity.

He added:  “Our work has now shown that protected areas have significant biodiversity benefits. In general, plant and animal populations are larger and more species are found inside rather than outside protected areas. In other words, protected areas are doing their job.”

The researchers, from the University of Exeter, Monash University and Stellenbosch University, said national parks, nature reserves and other ways of setting land aside to protect species had long been a key strategy in the conservation of biodiversity.

However, there was a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of protected areas in conserving biodiversity. Some studies showed that fewer species and lower populations of key species were found inside, compared to outside reserves. Others showed just the opposite.

Lead author Dr Bernard Coetzee, from the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University said the level of conflicting evidence was worrying as it made political decisions to protect new areas, often at significant cost, problematic.

“This research now shows that protecting areas does work in conserving biodiversity, and it should remain a key strategy for conservation going forward,” he said.

The authors of the paper, published in the journal PLOS ONE, say the research helps justify the international focus on protected areas, which is a welcome message with The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 to be held in Sydney coming up later this year.

“This research means that protecting areas and spending hard-contested budgets on their maintenance are worthwhile for all governments. It also shows that achieving the Convention on Biodiversity’s 2020 Aichi Target 11 to increase protected area coverage to 17 per cent of land and inland water areas will really help protect biodiversity,” Dr Coetzee said.

 “We now know it works, but we need more action to ensure increased coverage and better safeguards for their long term maintenance.”

The ESI is working with businesses and enterprises across all sectors of the economy in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond to translate research and expertise into innovative business practices, products and services in order to respond to the challenges of environmental change. It has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£22.9M) and the South West Regional Development Agency (£6.6M), with significant support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Date: 29 August 2014

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