Just like it’s easy to point out the “bad guy” in practically every Disney movie ever made, it’s easy to point fingers at different groups of people and global organizations for the tragic degradation of the world’s ecosystems. It’s easy to find scapegoats to blame, to shift the responsibility away from yourself and put it on the well-known “bad guys” of conservation biology – factories that consistently spew gallons of waste into rivers and oceans, companies that use clear-cutting techniques and destroy forests upon forests, etc. But sometime we spend so much time pointing fingers that we don’t actually do anything about it. In their paper, “Integrating regional conservation priorities for multiple objectives into national policy,” Beger and her fellow researchers (Beger et al., Nature Communications, 2015, p. 8208) propose step-by-step plans to change public policy to start turning back the clock and reverse the harmful effects that the rapidly-growing human population has inflicted upon the ecosystems around the world, which is something that we should all be doing.
Beger et al. focused their study on the area known as the Coral Triangle, which is comprised of “the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands,” in hopes of “[sustaining] globally imperiled coral reefs and associated ecosystems” (Beger et al., Nature Communications, 2015, p. 8208). But before they could even begin to tackle this enormous task, they had to set concrete goals that would cast a vision for what the researchers hoped to achieve through this study. They looked to a related paper, “Aligning Conservation Priorities Across Taxa in Madagascar with High-Resolution Planning Tools,” to see how Kremen and her colleagues (Science, 2008, p. 222) discuss Madagascar’s ambitious goal to triple the land area under governmental protection. I believe that every region, from the smallest state to the largest country, should create some kind of conservation goal along these lines, in order to outline the overall plan for this global conservation effort. Most of us were taught as children to set high and lofty goals for ourselves to motivate us to work hard and achieve these goals, and I think the same goes for any group of people because having goals gives you an idea of where you want to end up and the steps that you need to take in order to get there.
After setting goals for conservation efforts, researchers can start looking for ways to preserve biodiversity. One of the biggest difficulties that conservation biologists face is finding tools that will allow them to determine the areas of most need around the globe. Luckily, Kremen and his team discovered ground-breaking tools and technology that allowed researchers and conservationists to work together in prioritizing the biodiversity hot spots that, if targeted for conservation, will lead to the greatest advances in protecting biodiversity. They also explore the ways in which we can learn to apply these planning tools to different regions across the world to better facilitate the revitalization of the world’s ecosystems.
“Lowland rainforest, Masoala National Park, Madagascar” by Frank Vassen is licensed under CC 2.0
To reach their goal of tripling the amount of protected land area, the government of Madagascar had to overcome many preliminary obstacles with logistics, such as how to gather data regarding species distributions over large geographic areas. The researchers “collected data for endemic species in six major taxonomic groups…to produce the first quantitative conservation prioritization for a biodiversity hot spot with this combination of taxonomic breadth…geographic extent…and spatial resolution…” (Kremen et al., Science, 2008, p. 222). Their method of prioritization focuses on pinpointing specific regions in Madagascar where endemic species are prone to extinction. After they had collected data regarding the major hot spots for biodiversity, the researchers entered their data for the remaining species into an algorithm that they developed to create rankings for conservation priorities. This algorithm assigns priority primarily according to the proportional loss of habitat that is suitable for different species. These papers, along with many others, provide quantitative methods for measuring biodiversity that help researchers pinpoint the regions of the world that would benefit the most from conservation efforts.
In my opinion, this is an effective way to begin the fight for conservation of the world’s ecosystems. I’ve heard many differing views about whether targeting hot spots is the best way to go or whether we should focus our attention on other areas, but it is rare to see an actual quantitative model for identifying specific areas of concentration for protecting the environment and rewilding the ecosystems that would be a decisive step in the right direction. Although there may be downsides to focusing solely on hot spots, these papers at least give us a starting point from which we can branch out and continue developing models for conservation and rewilding over the years. The main issue right now is that we don’t have the luxury or the time to spend worrying about whether we should focus on one region or another; one thing we can and ought to do now is jumpstart the solution to this global issue by doing what we can now, and build on top of our solution from there on out.
Beger, M., McGowan, J., Treml, E. A., Green, A. L., White, A. T., Wolff, N. H., . . . Possingham, H. P. (2015). Integrating regional conservation priorities for multiple objectives into national policy. Nature Communications, 6, 8208. doi:10.1038/ncomms9208
Kremen, C., Cameron, A., Moilanen, A., Phillips, S. J., Thomas, C. D., Beentje, H., . . . Zjhra, M. L. (2008). Aligning conservation priorities across taxa in Madagascar with high-resolution planning tools. Science, 320, 222-26. doi:10.1126/science.1154833