Under stress

Biodiversity at risk in protected forest areas

Published: Friday 31 August 2012

imageMOST of the tropical forests, home to half of our planet’s species, have been declared protected areas to act as reservoirs for Earth’s biodiversity. But biodiversity is not safe in these areas.

A study has found that about half the protected areas suffered an “erosion of biodiversity” over the past 20 to 30 years because of human activities like hunting and mining. For the study, researchers analysed 60 protected areas across 36 tropical countries. They conducted over 200 detailed interviews to survey changes in 30 taxonomic groups. “These reserves are like arks for the biodiversity. But some of the arks are in danger of sinking,” say the authors of the study published in Nature on July 26.

The international team notes that many important groups, including most large-bodied animals and top predators, were particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Slightly less vulnerable species include primates and migratory animals. Other groups such as invasive species and butterflies survived better as the ecosystems degraded.

The study, one of the most comprehensive till date, also found that 80 per cent of the reserves suffered some loss in biodiversity, with around half showing serious decline. Inside protected areas, the most prominent indicators of biodiversity loss were declining forest cover and an increase in logging, hunting or harvesting of non-timber products. “Eighty-five per cent of the reserves lost forest cover over the past two to three decades. Only two per cent saw an increase,” the researchers say.

To save the biodiversity, researchers suggest establishing sizeable buffer zones around protected areas and lowering human activity around them.

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