Countries’ economic power does not predict conservation performance
Some countries are doing better than others at conserving their share of global vertebrate biodiversity, and the factors of success are not related to economic wealth. A new study conducted by conservation scientists from the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and BirdLife International provides the first assessment of the performance of individual nations and regions in meeting their responsibilities for global biodiversity. It reveals that countries with the highest economic capacity are not performing better than others. Contrary to expectation, a country’s per capita Gross Domestic Product does not explain effectiveness at reducing biodiversity loss. Instead, success appears to result from sound policy implementation.
“We were surprised to find that two of the world’s wealthiest nations – the United States and Australia – are among the worst performers”, said lead author Ana Rodrigues, Researcher at the CEFE. “This was even more striking given that developing countries such as Brazil, India, Peru and Madagascar have done proportionately much better at holding their commitments towards avoiding global biodiversity loss.”
Almost all regions and countries were found to have contributed negatively to global biodiversity trends for birds, mammals, and amphibians, as measured by the IUCN Red List Index, but these losses were mainly concentrated in some areas. Indeed, eight countries – Australia China, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and the United States – are responsible for more than half of the global deterioration in the conservation status of vertebrate species.
Nonetheless, a handful of countries stood out for having tipped the overall balance from species sliding towards extinction to a net improvement in the status of the species for which they are responsible by setting some of them on the road to recovery. The best performers were five small island developing states, which have achieved net improvements in vertebrate conservation status.
“That nations such as the Cook Islands, Fiji, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tonga have been able to reverse the extinction crisis in their countries demonstrates how effective conservation actions like invasive species eradication, biosecurity, management of protected areas, and ecosystem restoration can be,” explained co-author Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). “A key to the success that these five countries have had is the implementation of consistent conservation actions over several decades. Conservation rarely achieves success through short-term projects, but requires a long-term approach, something that donors should take note of.”
The study also revealed that the major threats to biodiversity differed substantially between areas. The impacts of overexploitation for food, traditional medicine and the pet trade have been most marked in Asian countries, particularly in China and Indonesia. Unsustainable agriculture and logging are the main drivers of biodiversity loss in South-East Asia, and invasive species are a major threat in the USA, particularly Hawai‘i, and in Australia. In the tropical Andes and Central America, the invasive chytrid fungus is a leading cause of amphibian declines.
After the world’s nations failed to meet the 2010 Biodiversity Target, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss”, governments agreed on a new ambitious strategic plan for biodiversity. Aichi Biodiversity Target 12 adopted at the tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, states that “by 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained”.
“Meeting Target 12 will require focused, long-term conservation investment in countries with large shares of responsibility for global biodiversity,” said co-author Stuart Butchart, Head of Science at BirdLife International. “Each country needs to invest more in conserving the species for which it is solely or largely accountable, focusing on the most important sites for biodiversity, such as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, and other Key Biodiversity Areas”
The study by Rodrigues et al. entitled ‘Spatially explicit trends in the global conservation status of vertebrates’ was published in PLOS ONE on 26 November 2014.