Protecting key biodiversity havens could prevent impending extinctions

A coalition of ecologists and conservationists has identified almost 17,000 sites worldwide, which if adequately protected could prevent most likely and imminent extinctions.

“Most species on Earth are rare, meaning that species either have very narrow ranges or they occur at very low densities or both,” says Eric Dinerstein of the US non-governmental organisation Resolve, lead author of an article published in Frontiers in Science.

“And rarity is very concentrated. In our study, zooming in on this rarity, we found that we need only about 1.2% of the Earth’s surface to head off the sixth great extinction of life on Earth.”  

They estimate that 1.2 million square kilometres of additional land protected between 2018 and 2023 included only 7% of these sites, which they call “Conservation Imperatives”.

The findings highlight an urgent need to prioritise conservation efforts for the habitats of rare and threatened species.

“These sites are home to over 4,700 threatened species in some of the world’s most biodiverse yet threatened ecosystems,” says co-author Andy Lee of Resolve.

“These include not only mammals and birds that rely on large intact habitats, like the tamaraw in the Philippines and the Celebes crested macaque in Sulawesi Indonesia, but also range-restricted amphibians and rare plant species.”  

The researchers mapped 6 layers of global biodiversity data and overlaid this on areas of remaining global habitat to identify the most critical, currently unprotected areas of biodiversity.

They found that 38% of Conservation Imperatives are either adjacent to or within only 2.5 kilometres of existing protected areas, which could make them cheaper to manage compared to more isolated sites.

To calculate the approximate price of protecting all 16,825 sites, the researchers used data from hundreds of land protection projects spanning 14 years. They then accounted for the type and amount of land acquired, as well as country-specific economic factors.

They found that protecting all the Conservation Imperatives would cost approximately US$169 billion (AU$253 billion).

“Our analysis estimated that protecting the Conservation Imperatives in the tropics would cost approximately $34 billion per year over the next 5 years,” says Lee.

“This represents less than 0.2% of the United States’ GDP, less than 9% of the annual subsidies benefiting the global fossil fuel industry, and a fraction of the revenue generated from the mining and agroforestry industries each year.”  

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