ABC Online: Are our national parks barking up the wrong tree?

 

28th January 2011: Read a feature story on ABC online covering our work on protected areas in three recent papers:

Fuller, R.A., McDonald-Madden, E., Wilson, K.A., Carwardine, J., Grantham, H.S., Watson, J.E.M., Klein, C.J., Green, D.C. & Possingham, H.P. 2010. Replacing underperforming protected areas achieves better conservation outcomes. Nature, 466, 365-367.

Taylor, M.F.J., Sattler, P.S., Evans, M., Fuller, R.A., Watson, J.E.M. & Possingham, H.P. in press. What works for threatened species recovery? An empirical evaluation for Australia. Biodiversity and Conservation.

Watson, J.E.M., Evans, M.C., Carwardine, J., Fuller, R.A., Joseph, L.N., Segan, D.B., Taylor, M.F.J., Fensham, R.J. & Possingham, H.P. in press. The capacity of Australia’s protected-area system to represent threatened species. Conservation Biology.

Read more about our work on conservation planning.

 
Lizzie Boakes’ paper in PLoS Biology on citizen science

 

Boakes, E.H., McGowan, P.J.K., Fuller, R.A., Chang-qing, D., Clark, N.E., O’Connor, K. & Mace, G.M. 2010. Distorted views of biodiversity: spatial and temporal bias in species occurrence data. PLoS Biology, 8, e1000385.

Abstract: 

Historical as well as current data on species distributions are needed to track changes in biodiversity. Species distribution data are found in a variety of sources but it is likely that they include different biases towards certain time periods or places. By collating a large historical database of ~170,000 records of species in the avian order Galliformes, dating back over two centuries and covering Europe and Asia, we investigate patterns of spatial and temporal bias in five sources of species distribution data: museum collections, scientific literature, ringing records, ornithological atlases, and website reports from “citizen scientists.” Museum data were found to provide the most comprehensive historical coverage of species’ ranges but often proved extremely time-intensive to collect. Literature records have increased in their number and coverage through time, whereas ringing, atlas, and website data are almost exclusively restricted to the last few decades. Geographically, our data were biased towards Western Europe and Southeast Asia. Museums were the only data source to provide reasonably even spatial coverage across the entire study region. In the last three decades, literature data have become increasingly focussed towards threatened species and protected areas, and currently no source is providing reliable baseline information—a role once filled by museum collections. As well as securing historical data for the future and making it available for users, the sampling biases will need to be understood and addressed if we are to obtain a true picture of biodiversity change.

 
Delivering Better Biodiversity Protection For Free!

 

We recently published a paper in Nature showing how it is possible to dramatically improve the performance of protected area systems by replacing a small number of poorly performing sites with more cost-effective ones. This benefit to conservation is delivered without spending a single extra dollar.

Protected areas are one of the most important tools in modern nature conservation, with over 100,000 sites covering about 12 per cent of the land and territorial waters of countries worldwide. Enormous efficiency gains could be achieved by modest and careful adjustments to a protected area system. A more flexible approach to the expansion of a protected area system could ultimately protect much more biodiversity.

The contribution of Australian protected areas to conserving vegetation types relative to their rarity (B) is positively related to the estimated cost of acquisition and management of the sites (C). However, there is a great deal of scatter in cost-effectiveness among the 6,990 protected areas; here the least cost-effective 1% of sites (70 protected areas) are denoted by crosses.

The contribution of Australian protected areas to conserving vegetation types relative to their rarity (B) is positively related to the estimated cost of acquisition and management of the sites (C). However, there is a great deal of scatter in cost-effectiveness among the 6,990 protected areas; here the least cost-effective 1% of sites (70 protected areas) are denoted by crosses.

Our modelling has shown that replacing the least cost-effective 1 per cent of Australia’s 6990 strictly protected areas could triple the number of vegetation types that are adequately protected. This huge benefit occurs because of the enormous variation in cost-effectiveness among existing sites. The figure on the left shows that some sites are delivering very little biodiversity protection given the level of investment needed to purchase the land.

The paper has sparked controversy because many conservationists view protected areas as sacred sites that shoud be protected in perpetuity. However, the reality is that many protected areas are in the wrong places, regions not needed for agricultural or urban expansion. Some of our reserves simply aren’t making the best use of this expensive form of conservation to protect our key natural values.

We can do much better if we reverse the protection status of the least cost-effective sites and use the resulting capital to establish and manage new protected areas. The rate of investment in new protected areas has slowed globally in recent years. Ensuring that the best places are protected is now more important than ever.

Fuller, R.A., McDonald-Madden, E., Wilson, K.A., Carwardine, J., Grantham, H.S., Watson, J.E.M., Klein, C.J., Green, D.C. & Possingham, H.P. 2010. Replacing underperforming protected areas achieves better conservation outcomes. Nature, 466, 365-367.

Link to the paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature09180

Link to a commentary on the paper by Peter Kareiva: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/466322a

 
Exposure to biodiversity increases psychological well-being

 

The world’s human population is becoming concentrated into cities, giving rise to concerns that it is becoming increasingly isolated from nature.

Urban public greenspaces form the arena of many people’s daily contact with nature, and such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits.

In some work at Kevin Gaston’s Biodiversity and Macroecology Group in Sheffield, UK, we discovered that these psychological benefits increase with the species richness of urban green spaces (Fuller et al. 2007). Moreover, we demonstrated that greenspace users can more or less accurately perceive species richness, depending on the taxonomic group in question.

We measured plant species richness in 15 urban parks around Sheffield city, and asked park users to rate the degree of psychological restoration they experienced when using the parks.

Our work shows that experiences of biodiversity can increase human well-being.