Tag Archives: biodiversity

New study: Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park

yosemite image

The centennial of the National Park Service’s provides an opportunity to reflect on the history of parks and prepare for the next 100 years.                                                                                                                                                               Image: http://www.wallpaperup.com/153388/Yosemite_National_Park_waterfall_forest_mountains.html

My colleagues and I just published a new study in Ecology and Society highlighting 150 years of history of Yosemite National Park. We documented seven legal changes that altered the boundaries of the park – both reductions and additions. We found that Yosemite lost 30% of its original area from when it was established in 1890. We also found that some lands which were removed from the park were subsequently re-protected as wilderness due to the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Forests which were downsized from Yosemite and remain unprotected are more highly fragmented by roads today. Higher road density indicates that the ecosystems are more degraded. Roads may also inhibit migration as species attempt to adapt to climate change.

Coverage of this story can be found on Human Nature, Mongabay, and VICE.  

This piece is part of a broader research effort on protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) which focuses on legal changes to protected areas around the world.  Learn more at PADDDtracker.org and follow @PADDDtracker on twitter.

Protected Areas and PADDD in Cambodia

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts that will cover conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

Some of the most biodiverse regions in the world are also the most threatened. Cambodia, a tropical developing nation in southeast Asia, is one such place. Do a quick Google Image search of “Cambodia species” and you’ll find troves of eye candy. Asian elephants, Siamese crocodiles, Germain’s langurs (silver and black primates), along with many other imperiled creatures. Cambodia’s rich biological diversity also includes over 8,000 plant species and likely countless undiscovered groups of flora and fauna [1]. Many of Cambodia’s species are experiencing declines in their populations; threats to the nation’s biodiversity include human population growth, habitat loss, and over-hunting; hunting especially affect populations of the Siamese crocodile [2].

Asian Elephant, from Fauna and Flora International  http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/asian-elephant/

Asian Elephant, from Fauna and Flora International http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/asian-elephant/

Siamese Crocodile. from: Fauna and Flora International

Siamese Crocodile. from: Fauna and Flora International http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/siamese-crocodile/

Germains Langur, from http://www.arkive.org/germains-langur/trachypithecus-germaini/

Germains Langur, from http://www.arkive.org/germains-langur/trachypithecus-germaini/

What can be done to conserve the biodiversity of Cambodia? Many interventions are in place, including and not limited to protected areas with various designations, ranging from strict protection to sustainable use. In general, protected area systems are designed to prevent human encroachment and reduce or block habitat destruction, providing species with necessary habitat to survive. According to the World Database of Protected Areas, 26% of Cambodia’s land is currently designated as protected [3]. Protected areas are considered particularly important for nations like Cambodia, which have faced high rates of forest loss in recent years – one of the highest in the world [4]. This high rate of conversion has been attributed to extremely high population growth and low economic development, the combination of which puts pressure on forests for timber and land for agriculture [4]. Are protected areas a useful tool for conservation in Cambodia? Evidence to support the impacts of conservation interventions are rare in the literature, but recent studies have shown that protected areas and also payments for ecosystem services (PES) implemented in Cambodia have been beneficial. Protected areas contributed to a reduction in deforestation and also contributed positively to local livelihoods [5, 6]. PES programs were particularly beneficial if implemented appropriately [6].

These impact evaluation studies are a positive sign: conservation interventions including protected areas and payments for ecosystem services can be beneficial. However, are all protected areas in Cambodia permanent? Will they continue to deliver benefits in perpetuity? Not likely. Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) is widespread in Cambodia. The most recent evidence demonstrates that 146 PADDD events have been enacted; 58% of these events have been caused by industrial agriculture [7].

PADDD in Cambodia. To learn more, visit http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Map of PADDD in Cambodia. To learn more, visit http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Has PADDD had an impact on forest cover in Cambodia? A cursory examination of the data suggests that there may be a connection. From 2001 to 2012, forest cover loss in Cambodia peaked around 2010. This corresponds in time with the documented PADDD events that have occurred in Cambodia (see figures below). As many of the PADDD events were driven by demand for industrial agriculture, it stands to reason that once the protected area laws were passed, then timber harvest likely began immediately. Further research, however, is needed to tease out the causal connection in space and time between the legal changes and the loss of forests.

Timeline of documented enacted PADDD in Cambodia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Timeline of documented enacted PADDD in Cambodia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Annual forest loss in Cambodia 2001-2012 http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20cambodia.htm

Annual forest loss in Cambodia 2001-2012 http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20cambodia.htm

The future of conservation and the prevention of further species losses in Cambodia will be extremely challenging; there are many complex factors at play between economic development and environmental conservation. If research demonstrates that PADDD is in fact driving forest conversion in Cambodia, this may suggest that protected areas (depending on the location) do benefit wildlife indirectly by preventing the conversion of forests. This may also show that the reduction or downgrade of a protected area is a change that the conservation community should work with the national government to avoid. Like many stories in conservation, this dynamic may not be so straightforward, however. For example, frequent changes to protected areas overall may suggest that looking beyond protected areas to other interventions (like Payments for Ecosystem Services) could be a more viable and sustainable alternative in the long term.

References

1. R. Jalonen; Choo, K.Y.; Hong, L.T.; Sim, H.C., (eds.) (2009). Forest genetic resources conservation and management: status in seven South and Southeast Asian countries. Bioversity International. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-967-5221-21-7.

2. Campbell, I.C., Poole, C., Giesen, W., and Valbo-Jorgensen, J. 2006. Species diversity and ecology of Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia. Aquatic Sciences 68:3, 355-373.

3. World Database of Protected Areas. 2015. Accessed 5/29/15 http://www.protectedplanet.net/country/KH

4. Laurance, W. F. 2007. Forest destruction in tropical Asia. Current Science 93:11, 1544-1550.

5. Clements, T., Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2015. Impact of payments for environmental services and protected areas on local livelihoods and forest conservation in northern Cambodia. Conservation Biology 29:1, 78-87.

6. Clements, T., Suon, S., Wilkie, D.S., and Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2014. Impacts of Protected Areas on Local Livelihoods in Cambodia. World Development 64:S125–S134.

7. World Wildlife Fund.  2015.  PADDDtracker: Tracking Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement [Beta version].  Accessed 29-05-2015. www.PADDDtracker.org.

International Day of Biodiversity: can protected areas help biodiversity?

This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts that will cover conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

int day of biodiv

https://www.cbd.int/idb/2015/

Happy International Day of Biodiversity! If you are unfamiliar with the term, biodiversity is broadly defined as the sum total of the variety of life on earth. This could include genetic diversity, species diversity, or even ecosystem diversity. In the scheme of things, the term biodiversity is relatively new – it was formalized several decades ago by pioneering conservation scientists including E.O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy. These scientists felt that it was important to conceptualize the term and include it in our lexicon; if you lack the term for something, you cannot begin to understand or save it. Ever since, the use of the term biodiversity has grown exponentially: it is incorporated into international treaties and conventions, the missions of many non-governmental organizations, and countless policies and management objectives.

biodiv is us

http://english.zoo.gov.taipei/

Although it has been defined and incorporated broadly in policies, the term biodiversity is still quite abstract; hence, it may be difficult to conceptualize. Think about it – biodiversity is the diversity of ALL life on Earth. As you can imagine, biodiversity can be measured in many ways. Is it measured as a count of the number of species? The number of populations within a species? The genetic diversity within a species or between species? The variety of species across the landscape? The variety of ecosystems within a certain place? Yes to all of the above. Because biodiversity can be defined in many different ways and quantified using a host of metrics (species richness, Shannon diversity, functional diversity, among others), the scientific community is still working to understand how much biodiversity exists on earth. In addition, much of global biodiversity, especially insects, microbes, and those species found in the deep oceans, have yet to be identified or catalogued.

Despite the semantic difficulties of the term biodiversity, one thing is certain. Global biodiversity is in crisis. Current rates of species extinction have been estimated to be 100 to 1000 times higher than background rates. Certain taxa are particularly in peril, including coral reefs, amphibians, and sharks and rays. Human activities have contributed significantly to the top threats to biodiversity including habitat loss, climate change, habitat fragmentation, over-exploitation, and pollution. Given this crisis, what can be done?

Traditionally, conservationists have worked tirelessly to stave off the biodiversity crisis by establishing protected areas – specially designated places that restrict or manage certain human activities. These protected areas have been established across the landscapes and seascapes of countries around the world and now cover about 15% of the land and 3% of the oceans.

WDPA

World Database of Protected Areas, http://www.protectedplanet.net/

In general, is the establishment of protected areas a good strategy to protect biodiversity? Overall, yes. Protected areas have been documented to provide benefits to biodiversity and also to human societies. Protected areas provide services to people including fresh water, recreation opportunities, and carbon storage to help mitigate climate change. Protected areas seem like the obvious choice when contemplating conservation strategies that could help species and ecosystems. Protected areas are set aside and protected forever, right? Unfortunately, the story is not so straightforward in practice.

Laws change: protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD)

Although many assume that protected areas are established in perpetuity, evidence suggests that protected areas around the world can be subject to legal changes. Laws can make protected areas weaker by allowing additional activities to occur within them (downgrades). Laws can also make protected areas smaller (downsizes) or delete them entirely (degazettes). For example, a proposal to drill for oil in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being considered. Yosemite National Park in the United States was once about 30% larger than it is today. Several protected areas were recently removed from protection to build hydropower dams in Brazil. Thousands of examples of PADDD events have been documented around the world – 2,000 laws have been enacted and more than 2,300 laws have been proposed that would change the size and status of protected areas. These figures represent a conservative estimate of the extent of PADDD worldwide.

PADDDtracker

Global map of PADDD – learn more at http://www.padddtracker.org/

Where and why do PADDD events occur?

PADDD has been documented globally and has occurred sporadically from 1900 to the present. Laws have been passed and proposed that would open up protected areas for industrial activities such as infrastructure development (building roads and dams), industrial agriculture, mining, and oil and gas development. In addition, protected area laws have also been changed for local reasons – to allow for subsistence-level extraction, land claims and rural settlements for indigenous people. Future blog posts will focus on particular legal changes at the national, regional and individual protected area levels.

Cause of enacted PADDD

Causes of Enacted PADDD Events. Key: F: forestry; M: mining; OG: oil and gas; IA: industrial agriculture; In: Industrialization; If: Infrastructure; LC: land claims; RS: rural settlement; S: subsistence; D: degradation; CP: conservation planning; O: other; U: unknown. Not shown: Proposed PADDD events. Data from PADDDtracker.org

PADDD and biodiversity

Bringing it back to biodiversity – does it matter if laws to protected areas change? Do legal changes actually affect biodiversity? Evidence suggests that it might and it likely depends on the context and cause of the legal change. PADDD has been linked to increased habitat fragmentation in areas formerly part of Yosemite National Park. As habitat fragmentation is considered a top threat to biodiversity, it is likely that PADDD could have contributed to biodiversity loss in this case. In addition, PADDD has been linked to higher rates of deforestation and carbon emissions in several tropical, biodiversity-rich nations. These findings suggest that PADDD may have negative consequences for biodiversity. However, many questions remain and much more research is needed to understand the impacts of PADDD on biodiversity. On one hand, PADDD events that are proximally caused by extractive activities (mining, oil and gas development) are likely to negatively affect biodiversity. On the other hand, PADDD events driven by conservation planning purposes could be beneficial overall for biodiversity. If for instance, a nation deems that a protected area has served its purpose and reallocates those funds for other protected areas or conservation strategies, then PADDD may have a net benefit over time across that nation. Teasing out the causal effects of PADDD on biodiversity is likely to be complex, but ultimately may demonstrate a critical connection between national-level decisions and site-specific biodiversity.

On this International Biodiversity Day, check out the protected areas and PADDD events near you to learn more about the factors affecting your local biodiversity.