In a new study, bioscientists argue that strengthening the protection given to areas already protected under law or by local communities is as critical for safeguarding biodiversity as creating new protected areas.
The research was carried out by our Department of Biosciences in collaboration with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Princeton University.
The researchers found that about 70 per cent of the roughly 5000 species analysed either have no apparent representation in protected areas, occur in protected areas that have been downgraded, downsized or degazetted, or would be especially vulnerable to extinction from future land-use change.
But, by enhancing the protection of existing protected areas, and by expanding the existing park networks across just 1 per cent of the planet’s land area, the essential habitats of 1191 animal species that are especially at risk of extinction can be protected.
Protected areas can be vulnerable to harmful human activities if there is insufficient enforcement or a lack of political backing for wildlife conservation.
Parks become less effective at protecting species when they experience such downgrading, downsizing or degazettement (PADDD) events, which occur when a government decides to roll-back the legal protections governing a park, diminishing the degree or extent of protection afforded to it.
These changes could result in forest clearance for infrastructure expansion, mining or other activities, and translate to the loss or degradation of habitats.
Megophrys damrei is a critically endangered frog found only in Cambodia and nowhere else in the world.
Even though its habitat is protected, the area continues to experience habitat degradation and loss within national park boundaries and in the adjacent surroundings.
The researchers point out that expanding the protected area network could benefit species whose habitats currently lack sufficient protection.
For example, the Sangihe golden bulbul is a critically endangered songbird species found only on Sangihe Island in Indonesia and nowhere else in the world. Estimates put the entire population of the species at between 50 and 230 individuals remaining at one site, which is not protected.
This species is absent from plantations, suggesting it is a sensitive species that can only thrive in good forests and would benefit from enhanced conservation.
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