Even protected rainforest is losing biodiversity
Biodiversity is decreasing substantially in many of the world’s protected tropical areas. This is the conclusion of a worldwide study to which Leiden University researchers also contributed. An article on the research appeared in the authoritative scientific journal Nature.
A team of over 200 researchers has spent several years conducting research in tropical rainforests in Asia, Africa and America on more than thirty different categories of species, varying from trees and butterflies to primates and large predators. They looked at how these species have changed in the past two or three decades and charted how environmental changes have threatened the protected areas.
Approximately half of these reserves were shown to be experiencing difficulties in maintaining the original diversity levels. An alarmingly large number of species are in danger of extinction, especially in areas where settlements, mining, deforestation and illegal hunting are common.
Environmental anthropologist Jan van der Ploeg and biologist Merlijn van Weerd, who are connected to Leiden University, both contributed to the article. They co-ordinated research in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park from Leiden University’s field office in the Philippines. Van der Ploeg says: ‘The Philippine government claims that they cannot stop illegal deforestation in the protected areas because this is the only source of income for poor farmers. In reality a lot of rich businessmen and corrupt politicians are involved. Many rural communities want to see the end of deforestation. The solution lies mainly in improving the way in which the law is enforced and combating the corruption in the government.’
According to Van Weerd, ‘Leiden has been carrying out research on the changes in biodiversity as caused by human actions for more than twenty years in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park and the agricultural areas around it. It is a unique and lengthy research project. This is one of the reserves that suffers from a lack of protection. Trees are being cut down and sections of forest are being burned down in order to create agricultural areas. This impacts vulnerable species, many of which only exist in the Philippines. More sustainable agriculture outside the park would mean that poverty would decrease, the forest would be kept intact and the landscape would be suitable for many species to live in.’
The authors of the article argue that it is essential to combat both the internal and external threats faced by the protected areas as well as gaining the support of the local population. This could ensure that the protected areas would be better equipped to endure future threats such as climate change.
‘The protected areas function as a kind of Noah's ark for biodiversity,’ says the article’s main author, Professor William Laurance, who is connected to the Australian James Cook University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. ‘And they are in danger of sinking,’ he adds, ‘just as our hopes are pinned on them for maintaining tropical rainforests and their astounding biodiversity.’
Laurance, William F., and 215 co-authors. 2012. Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature , DOI:10.1038/nature11318.
Published online on 26 July 2012.
- Van der Ploeg, J., M. van Weerd, A.B. Masipiqueña & G.A. Persoon. 2011. Illegal logging in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, the Philippines. Conservation & Society 9(3): 202-215.
- Weerd, M., van & H.A. Udo de Haes. 2010. Cross-taxon congruence in tree, bird and bat species distributions at a moderate spatial scale across four tropical forest types (pdf). Biodiversity Conservation, 19 (12), pp. 3393-3411.
(30 July 2012)