Rare Species Cling to Existence in Unprotected Areas

WASHINGTON, DC, April 7, 2004 (ENS) - WASHINGTON, DC, April 7, 2004 (ENS) - The yellow-eared parrot of the Columbian Andes and the Comoro black flying fox from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean have more in common than their ability to fly. They are two of the hundreds of critically endangered species that are totally without protection, as identified in a comprehensive peer-reviewed global analysis published today.


The yellow-eared parrot, Ognorhynchus icterotis, has fewer than 150 known individuals remaining. (Photo by Paul Salaman courtesy Fundacion ProAves)
The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International led the study, in which 21 scientists representing 15 organizations participated. The findings appear in the current issue of the journal "Nature."

Scientists compared a map of over 100,000 protected areas to maps of 11,633 species ranges from four species groups, based on data compiled through the Species Survival Commission of IUCN-The World Conservation Union and BirdLife International.

They then identified places where species live without any protection, and analyzed where the highest priority gaps in protection exist. In total, 1,171 threatened bird species, and 4,735 mammal, 5,454 amphibian and 273 freshwater turtle and tortoise species were analyzed.

Of the mammals analyzed, 149 are threatened with extinction. There are 411 threatened amphibians, 232 threatened birds, and 12 threatened tortoises that exist completely without protection of any kind - no park, no protected area, no wildlife reserve, no sanctuary.

At that same time, the scientists realized, the actual area of protected land is increasing, but these threatened species are not benefiting.

The prevailing strategy for global conservation, agreed at the 1992 World Parks Congress, called for protection for 10 percent of every major biome by the year 2000. But even though more than 10 percent of the Earth's land surface is now protected, the complete lack of protection for many of Earth's most threatened species underscores the gaps in the protected area system.

"Protecting more than 10 percent of the planet's land surface is a major conservation achievement," said Gustavo Fonseca, Executive Vice President for Programs and Science at Conservation International and professor of Zoology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. "But this study proves that no matter how appealing arbitrary percentage targets might be from a political standpoint, we should focus specifically on those places with the greatest concentrations of threatened and endemic species."


Amphibians without protection include the Black-eared mantella, Mantella milotympanum of Madagascar. (Photo by Dr. Peter Weish courtesy Conservation International)
One of those places is the island nation of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean off Africa's east coast. In Madagascar, several species from a group of colorful frogs found nowhere else on Earth are threatened but not protected, the researchers found. They belong to the Mantella genus and include the harlequin mantella (Mantella cowanii) and the black-eared mantella (Mantella milotympanum), but there are other unprotected and threatened frogs in Madagascar such as the Heterixalus punctatus that calls from its home in sunny swamps from December to March.

More than 40 vertebrate species found only in Madagascar, as well as 70 species unique to Papua New Guinea, are not covered by any protected area.

These are some of the "gap" species, so-called if there is no protected area overlapping their range.

The global gap analysis is a new project, says Conservation International, since only now is relevant data available to address these questions on a global scale.

Even so, there are still gaps in the data available to researchers. "For one area," explains Ana Rodrigues, a research fellow for global gap analysis, "we might have a wonderful map for a species - very detailed and clear. And then just across the border, we have no idea where the same species is."


The Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher, Eutrichomyias rowleyi is now represented by fewer than 100 individuals living only on Indonesia's Sangihe Island. (Photo by Jon Riley courtesy BirdLife International)
So far hundreds of gap species have been identified, most in tropical countries where there are many unique species and low coverage by protected areas.

But the gap species will not be preserved by identification alone. Almost without exception, says Conservation International, the most endangered animals and plants will not survive outside protected areas.

These are the species with the most restricted ranges and the greatest degree of specialization, and they are very often also those charismatic species that stir both cultural affinities and deep affection. The golden lion tamarin and the northern muriqui, both endemic to Brazil's Atlantic Forest, are examples. Others are the indri, Madagascar's largest lemur, and the giant panda of central-western China.

Conservation International's message is apparent. When it comes to biodiversity conservation in the tropics, parks work.

Research by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science published 2001 shows that tropical parks are "overwhelmingly" achieving their conservation objectives, in spite of the fact that most are underfunded. This research confirms that parks are a vital tool to secure areas within rapidly advancing development frontiers

A major shift in conservation planning is required to avoid large-scale species extinctions over the next few decades, the researchers say. Planners should switch their attention from conserving each biome to conserving the specific locations where these "gap" animals still survive.