Establishing nature reserves is a very important part of the effort needed to safeguard global biodiversity. But, in itself, it’s not enough. A letter in Nature, authored by an impressive number of scientists (over 200. Update: 216, see the link provided by one of the authors in the comments for more information about the paper), stresses this point.
They analyze the status of 60 tropical forest reserves from all over the world by looking at changes over the past 20 to 30 years. About half of the conservation areas is classified as ‘succeeding’. The other half is ‘suffering’. To arrive at this assessment, the researchers looked at 31 functional species groups and 21 potential drivers of environmental change. Following figure shows how some key-groups are doing.
One thing that seemed very important for a healthy reserve, is proper management, and notably on-the-ground protection.
Another finding is that while changes within reserves are obviously relevant, so are changes outside of the protected area. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since a nature reserve is not a closed system. We can’t just put a fence around an area and hope that that’s all we need to do. The world outside of the reserve matters too. The best way to protect biodiversity is to work towards a ‘healthy’ planet and ensure that the areas bordering the reserve are doing well also.
Now, don’t rush to the conclusion that nature reserves don’t matter. They do. They matter greatly. As first step. But they can’t be the end of the effort. As the conclusion reads:
Protected areas are a cornerstone of efforts to conserve tropical biodiversity. It is not our intent to diminish their crucial role but to highlight growing challenges that could threaten their success. The vital ecological functions of wildlife habitats surrounding protected areas create an imperative, wherever possible, to establish sizeable buffer zones around reserves, maintain substantial reserve connectivity to other forest areas and promote lower-impact land uses near reserves by engaging and benefiting local communities.
So, two important first steps:
- Realize that biodiversity matters.
- Establish nature reserves to provide refuges for as much species as possible.
However, in the biosphere, a lot of things are connected (an example), which means that these two steps, while essential, cannot be the endpoint.
Laurance, W.F., Carolina Useche, D., Rendeiro, J., Kalka, M., Bradshaw, C.J.A., Sloan, S.P., Laurance, S.G., Campbell, M., & et al. (2012). Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature11318