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New science: Saving freshwater species, lessons from China and more

© Luciano Candisani/iLCP

Protecting nature starts with science. Here’s a roundup of recent scientific research published by Conservation International experts. 

1. To save freshwater species, protect land and water 

Combining freshwater and terrestrial conservation efforts can increase protection of freshwater species by up to 600 percent, according to a recent paper.

The planet’s freshwater ecosystems are in crisis: Research found that populations of monitored freshwater species have fallen by 84 percent and nearly one-third of wetland ecosystems have been lost since 1970 due to human activities that degrade habitats and decrease water quality. 

But despite their vital contributions to humans and biodiversity, freshwater ecosystems receive only a small percentage of the funding dedicated to nature conservation, explained Robin Abell, a co-author of a recent review of these findings published in the journal Science, who leads Conservation International’s freshwater work. 

“Freshwater ecosystems connect headwaters with oceans, land with water and people with the resources they need to thrive,” Abell said. “However, they have historically been ignored during the development of conservation initiatives such as protected areas and other management interventions.” 

“Freshwater and terrestrial conservation need to go hand-in-hand to receive the full suite of benefits that nature can provide,” she said. “This will require strong policy that recognizes the connections between terrestrial and freshwater systems and that treats those systems as equal in importance.”

2. Protect nature, slow climate change: A lesson from China 

China’s strategy to divvy up land for protected areas and for human activities has helped to conserve the country’s biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a recent study has found. 

As part of the country’s “ecological civilization” approach, China has implemented “ecological conservation lines” that requires officials to identify areas critical for biodiversity, freshwater conservation and disaster risk reduction, then work with local communities to set aside these regions for protection. This method has been implemented across a quarter of the country. 

“Following a series of catastrophic floods that were exacerbated by deforestation, China realized that protecting nature is also crucial to protecting its people,” explained Sebastian Troëng, executive vice president at Conservation International and a co-author of the study. “Now, they are working to strike the ideal balance between production and protection.”

A part of national climate policies, the “ecological civilization” approach uses nature-based solutions such as forest and wetland restoration projects to help maintain protected areas, while reducing land-use conflict among farmers and businesses by dedicating certain zones to activities such as agriculture and development. 

According to Troëng, this approach can work elsewhere. 

“Ahead of landmark biodiversity and climate conferences in 2021, China's policy innovations in land-use planning and their approach to protecting nature could offer lessons for other countries in developing integrated strategies on climate, biodiversity and desertification.”

3. Think globally, conserve locally: What makes ‘community conservation’ work?

A recent paper offers a new approach to support conservation that is carried out by communities to protect the nature that they depend on.

Such community-based conservation efforts are actually widespread, employed across an estimated 3.7 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) of land around the world. 

Drawing lessons from across different social contexts, the study’s authors analyzed five community-based conservation programs in various regions — from the rainforests of Madagascar to the Great Plains of the United States. 

The study looks into how social factors influence conservation efforts in a local community throughout an entire project — from its establishment to its persistence to the number of people and communities in the region who adopt it.  

What they found: Tailoring a conservation approach to a region’s social, cultural, political and economic conditions was critical to each program’s success.

“The goal of this study is to bring social science theories under one unified lens to help develop and facilitate the most effective conservation projects in a given community,” explained Arundhati Jagadish, a social scientist at Conservation International and co-author on the paper. 

“This framework allows us to learn across different projects, stakeholders and organizations collectively to deliver positive results for both people and nature."


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A freshwater Dorado fish in Brazil (© Luciano Candisani/iLCP)

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