Despite the protection, biodiversity is not well conserved in the tropical regions, says study

A global study spanning 36 nations, which looked at growing threats to protected areas of biodiversity, including Western Ghats and Gir National Park in India, found that 85 per cent of the reserves that were studied lost some nearby forest cover over the past two to three decades.

Only 2 per cent saw increase in the surrounding forest, according to the study carried out by William Laurance, professor of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, and his colleagues. G. Umapathy, scientist, working in the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) here, is one of the co-authors of the papers which just appeared in the prestigious Nature journal, according to a press release here.

30 species studied

The study titled ‘Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas’, looked at more than 30 different categories of species—from trees, and butterflies to primates and large predators in these regions. In India, data relating to Annamalai and Madhumalai tiger reserves in the Western Ghats and Gir National Park were included.

It showed that despite the protection, the biodiversity is not well conserved in these regions. “Estimates of how biodiversity is changed in numbers over the past 2-3 decades in these regions suggest that while most reserves were helping to protect their forests, about half were struggling to sustain their original biodiversity,” it was noted.

Decline of the species number is extremely widespread and a large variety of species are affected, including big predators and other large-bodied animals, primates, old growth trees, steam-dwelling fish and amphibians.

Imminent threat

While reserves in which on-the-ground protection efforts increased had fared better, it was observed that protecting biodiversity involves more than just safeguarding the reserves themselves. “In many instances, the landscapes and habitats surrounding reserves are under imminent threat.”

Underlining the importance of preserving peripheral regions of the reserves, it observed that the best strategy for maintaining biodiversity within tropical reserves is to protect them against their major proximate threats, particularly habitat disruption and overharvesting.

However, it is not enough to confine such efforts to reserve interiors while ignoring surrounding landscapes, which are often being rapidly deforested, degraded and overhunted.

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.

“A focus on managing both external and internal threats should also increase the resilience of biodiversity in reserves to potentially serious climatic change”, the study noted.

Dr. Umapathy said that apart from protecting reserves, there was a need for creating buffer zones around them for long-term conservation of biodiversity.