A class half full
A new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution argues that decades of conservation actions have had a positive impact for many of the world's endangered species. Even if we have not yet turned back the tide of the current mass extinction crisis, there have been notable successes.
According to the paper, conservation happens on three levels:
Micro - focusing on a single species or ecosystem
Meso - involving cooperation between a number of countries e.g. curbing the illegal wildlife trade or protecting wide-ranging species
Macro -global campaigning e.g. pressurising multinational corporations to become more environment or biodiversity-friendly. The report calculates that at least 16 birds from 5 continents would have gone extinct between 1994 and 2004 if not for direct conservation action.
Thanks to conservation efforts there are now over 100,000 protected areas - national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries - covering over 7 million square miles (19 million square kilometers). In countries like Brazil, the report says, protected areas have gone a long way in curbing deforestation.
"An estimated 37 percent of the decline in annual deforestation rates in Brazil between 2002 and 2009 can be attributed to the preservation of 709,000 square kilometers of forest in newly established protected areas," the paper claims.
"Public pressure by consumers in developed countries is sometimes needed to make a conservation difference thousands of miles away. This pressure, often in the form of boycotts of products obtained via deforestation, is transforming supply chains," the authors suggest.
They are also optimistic that the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) programme, which pays forest owners to preserve standing forest, has a capacity to play a similar role. They write that: "if carefully targeted, REDD investments could help to preserve biodiversity 'hotspots' with many endangered species," they write.
The researchers believe conservation will become more challenging in the future as the planet's population surges past 10 billion people by the end of the 21st century.