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New Study: Global Species Loss Could Be Halved By Conserving 30% of Tropical Lands

February 26, 2020

Arlington, Va. (February 26, 2020) – Extinction risk could decrease by more than 50% if at least 30% of land is conserved across the tropics, reveals a study published today in Ecography. The paper, authored by 21 global biodiversity and climate change scientists, finds increased conservation efforts paired with efforts to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius offers the best chance to slow species loss.

The study is the first to analyze extinction rates in the context of conservation and climate change. The findings, revealed at the Davos Biodiversity Forum, come at a critical time as the global community meets in Rome this week to continue negotiations on the Zero Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework ahead of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity this October in Kunming, China.

The goals and targets to be agreed upon at the Conference will serve as an important road map guiding conservation efforts for the next 10 years — the period in which we must slow global warming, protect our ecosystems and put biodiversity first.

“2020 is the Super Year for Nature and existing research shows we are on the verge of a sixth mass extinction if we do not commit to increased conservation efforts,” said Lee Hannah, lead author and senior scientist at Conservation International’s Moore Center for Science. “The good news is that we now have science to guide actionable solutions to this crisis. If we collectively prioritize key areas for conservation we can preserve biodiversity hotspots and slow global warming at the same time. It’s a win-win model.”

Experts at Conservation International currently support the proposed inclusion of a target calling for 30% protection of land area and 30% protection of ocean area. The results of the Ecography study show the positive impact this 30% threshold for land conservation will have on species loss. In fact, it could help reduce extinction risk twofold, including extinctions that are fueled by climate change.

“Climate change and species loss are largely human-driven despite the fact that we need stable temperatures and healthy ecosystems to thrive. Understanding the way these pressing issues are interconnected is key to implementing effective conservation solutions before it’s too late,” said Patrick Roehrdanz, co-author and scientist at Conservation International.

Key findings from the paper include:

  • Conserving 30% of land area cuts extinction risk in half across all known tropical vascular plants, birds and mammals;
  • Avoiding extinctions results in healthy ecosystems that provide many services critical to people, including maintaining key carbon stores that prevent runaway climate change; and
  • Future conserved lands need to account for shifts in species location and agricultural land suitability that are the result of climate change, especially in higher elevation landscapes.

“This study makes clear that not taking actions against climate change would put at risk about 65% of the plant and vertebrates species in the neotropics,” said Pablo Marquet, co-author and professor at Catholic University of Chile. “Protecting landscapes so that they can become functional for species on the move due to climate change is an imperative. Our study points out where this should be done.”

Preventing extinction and identifying the ecosystems that should be prioritized for conservation investments can be complicated. To assist with this, the paper also provides maps and spatial planning to help illustrate locations across the Afrotropics, Neotropics and Asia Tropics that if protected could most effectively reverse currently predicted extinction rates.

“The study shows us which areas are becoming increasingly suitable for large numbers of species due to climate change. This is of great help to us since, where they fall outside existing protected areas, we can now prioritise such areas for future protection,” said Wendy Foden, a co-author and head of South African National Parks’ Cape Research Centre. “Adequately protecting tropical regions from habitat loss is urgent and essential. This study is the product of large scale co-ordination and collaboration in Africa and globally. We’re proud to have been part of it and look forward to making use of the results.”

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature that people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about Conservation International, the groundbreaking “Nature Is Speaking” campaign and its series of virtual reality projects: “Drop in the Ocean”, “My Africa,” “Under the Canopy” and “Valen’s Reef.” Follow Conservation International’s work on our Human Nature blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.