|For many species, including birds, effective conservation depends on targeting resources at the site scale. Sites of particular significance for birds have been identified by BirdLife International and designated Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Effective protection and management of the 11,000 IBAs recognized to date would make an enormous contribution towards ensuring the survival of many bird species and much other biodiversity besides. It would also help secure the vital ecosystem services that these sites provide.|
Using a set of standardised selection criteria, more than 11,000 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been identified in over 200 countries and territories (). Originally developed and applied in terrestrial and freshwater environments, IBA criteria have more recently been applied in the marine realm (). Wherever possible, the process of IBA identification is led by the national BirdLife Partner organisation. This ensures local knowledge informs the process as well as building engagement and capacity which improves prospects for subsequent monitoring and conservation action at each site. By late 2012, seven continental directories, 130 national IBA inventories and a global marine e-atlas had been published, in a variety of languages ().
Protecting critical habitat across a network of IBAs can be an effective way of conserving species, often capturing a large proportion of the total population at relatively few key sites. For instance, safeguarding the Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea (classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) in Africa would be significantly enhanced through the effective protection of a network of 34 IBAs, which cover only a small fraction of the species’s overall range (). Establishing networks of IBAs can be particularly important for migrants, such as the Blue Swallow, which typically utilise a series of widely separated sites through the course of their annual migrations ().
Evidence shows that IBAs also support a wealth of other biodiversity (, , ). For instance, in East Africa, the IBA network captures 97% of the region’s endemic mammals, 90% of its globally threatened mammals, and 92% of its endemic snakes and amphibians (). IBAs consequently provide an effective ‘first cut’ for an overall network of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), sites significant for wider biodiversity conservation globally (). Robust measures are needed if biodiversity is to be maintained in the face of climate change. Safeguarding the existing network of IBAs (in conjunction with adaptation measures and the identification of additional sites) will play a key role in mitigating the worst impacts of a changing climate on birds and on other wildlife ().
The conservation of IBAs not only helps biodiversity—many provide a wide range of services that benefit humans, both locally and globally (). In particular, healthy, biodiverse environments help provide resilience against the consequences of as the effects of drought, crop failure, flooding, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events (, , ). Community engagement and involvement in IBA conservation is vital. This is increasingly being achieved through the actions of Local Conservation Groups (LCGs). Currently numbering over 2,000 worldwide, LCGs foster local participation in conservation and often focus on the most marginalised community members (). The results of such local involvement can lead to significant conservation benefits (, ).
Data on IBAs are being used to inform environmental impact assessments through, for example, the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT)—a decision support tool for business, government and conservation ().
IBAs can make a crucial contribution in showing where current protected area systems ‘miss’ key species, and so inform how best these gaps can be plugged. Thus, in Europe, BirdLife’s IBA inventory has been adopted as a ‘shadow list’ that is being used to inform how the network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) should be expanded and improved (). In many regions, these inventories have been used to identify potential Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) while, worldwide, ‘gap analyses’, comparing the locations of IBAs with national protected-area networks, have helped countries implement the CBD’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas (POWPA) ().
The IBA Protection Index measures the degree to which IBAs are covered by protected areas and provides a useful metric to judge progress in reducing biodiversity loss (). The IBA indices show that sites with formal protection are in better and more stable condition than those without (). Currently, a high proportion of IBAs remain unprotected, including many that hold globally threatened species () and only around 25% of IBAs have full legal protection.
The world’s IBAs are monitored using a standardised and simple framework. Such monitoring, carried out by local groups, volunteers, government staff and BirdLife Partners, provides information about how populations and habitats are faring, gives early warnings of threats affecting sites and provides feedback on the effectiveness of conservation actions to address these threats. Such data, when aggregated across sites, are used to calculate indices which provide powerful measures of status and trend across IBA networks, at national and regional scales ().
To access case studies on Important Bird Areas, please click on the following links.
Compiled 2010, updated 2012
BirdLife International (2012) Spotlight on Important Bird Areas. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone