email a friend
printable version
Spotlight on Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
  

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 (To date, more than 10,000 Important Bird Areas have been identified). Originally developed and applied in terrestrial and freshwater environments, IBA criteria have more recently been applied in the marine realm (Important Bird Areas for the marine environment are being identified in many regions). 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 (The impact of Important Bird Area directories).

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 (North American monitoring schemes are revealing declines in migratory species). 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 (Important Bird Areas for globally threatened species: Blue Swallow).

Evidence shows that IBAs also support a wealth of other biodiversity (Forest IBAs are effective at capturing a large proportion of other forest biodiversity in Uganda, The IBA network in Uganda is effective at capturing butterflies, dragonflies and some plants, Important Bird Areas hold internationally important numbers of other animals or plants in Turkey). 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 (Important Bird Areas are also important for other terrestrial vertebrates in East Africa). IBAs consequently provide an effective ‘first cut’ for an overall network of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), sites significant for wider biodiversity conservation globally (What are Key Biodiversity Areas?). 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 (Safeguarding Important Bird Areas is key to tackling conservation in the face of climate change).

The conservation of IBAs not only helps biodiversity—many provide a wide range of services that benefit humans, both locally and globally (Understanding local needs: the role of Important Bird Areas in people’s livelihoods). 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 (Restoring forest ecosystems will help buffer communities against climate change, Developing sustainable livelihood options will help communities adapt to climate change, Mangrove ecosystems provide numerous benefits including protection against sea level rise). 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 Berga Floodplain Site Support Group - a local initiative for a globally important site). The results of such local involvement can lead to significant conservation benefits (Community conservation action is showing success on Mount Oku, Cameroon, Developing civil society networks to conserve Important Bird Areas in eastern Nepal).

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 (IBAT tools for Environmental Impact Assessments).

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 the European Union there has been slow but significant progress in the legal recognition of IBAs). 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) (Important Bird Areas can help inform an ecologically representative network of protected areas).

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 Protection Index tracks trends in the protection of key areas for biodiversity). The IBA indices show that sites with formal protection are in better and more stable condition than those without (In Kenya, IBA monitoring shows the value of formal protection for biodiversity conservation). Currently, a high proportion of IBAs remain unprotected, including many that hold globally threatened species (Many African IBAs, including those holding threatened birds, have no legal recognition or protection) 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 (Monitoring Important Bird Areas in Africa).

To access case studies on Important Bird Areas, please click on the following links.

Links
10,000 sites to save, Global Important Bird Areas

Compiled 2010, updated 2012

Recommended citation
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