Many Threatened Species Are Unprotected

DURBAN, South Africa, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - There are huge gaps in the global effort to save endangered species, conservationists say. New analysis released today finds some 700 endangered species have no protection over any part of their ranges, with many more at risk because the protected areas they depend upon as habitat are too small to be effective.

Without an immediate and strategic expansion of the protected area system, scientists expect a major wave of extinctions within the next few decades.

But there is a ray of hope in the analysis, conservationists say.

"By identifying the most urgent priorities that require protection and acting strategically and quickly, we still have a chance to save the vast majority of these species," said Gustavo Fonseca, executive vice president for programs and science at Conservation International.

The study was released today at the IUCN World Parks Congress by Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS). The "global gap analysis," which provides an overview of how well the world's species are covered by the global network of protected areas, is a joint project compiled by CABS and the IUCN-World Conservation Union's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). lemur

The Golden Crowned Sifaka clings to existence in the remaining fragments of dry forests in Madagascar. (Photo by Haroldo Castro courtesy Conservation International )
The authors compared a map of all protected areas for which reliable information was available to maps showing the ranges of more than 11,000 birds, mammal and amphibian species.

They then identified places where species live without any protection, and analyzed where the highest priority gaps in protection existed.

Although mammals had the best coverage - due in part to their larger average range size - the scientists defined 260 mammals as "gap species," meaning they have no protection over any part of their ranges. Some 54 percent of these gap species are threatened, including one of the rarest fruit bats in the world, the Comoro black flying fox, and the Handley's slender mouse opossum.

Of the 825 amphibians identified as gap species, 346 are threatened. The study finds that as a group, amphibians have significantly less coverage than mammals or birds, mainly due to their small ranges, but also because they have received much less conservation action.

Critically endangered amphibians without current protection include the Bernhard's mantella from Madagascar and the Wuchuan Frog found only in a cave in Guizhou, China.

Birds are the best studied group, but scientists found that some 20 percent of threatened species have no protection. Of the world's 1,183 threatened bird species, mapped and assessed by BirdLife International, 223 are identified as gap species. parrot

Less than 150 yellow eared parrots are known to remain in the wild. (Photo by Paul Salaman courtesy Birdlife International)
The largest concentration of unprotected birds is found in the Andes and Indonesia. These include the critically endangered yellow eared parrot, which has fewer than 150 known individuals remaining and is found only in the Colombian Andes, and the Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher, of which less than 100 individuals are known to exist, only on Indonesia's Sangihe Island.

The study also detailed that many existing protected areas are so small in size as to be hopeless for conservation placing at least 943 additional species at risk.

Tropical areas, in particular rainforests, and islands stood out as particular concerns for immediate conservation action.

Of the areas identified as urgent priorities for the creation of new protected areas, fully 80 percent of the land area falls within the tropics.

Islands, which constitute only 5.2 percent of the planet's land surface, hold 45 percent of all species analyzed - and half of these are endemic and found in only one habitat.

"The single most effective way to conserve species is to maintain their natural habitats," said Mohamed Bakarr, vice president for research for CABS and Deputy Chair of IUCN/WCPA. "The results of this analysis must be used to identify those places on Earth where we need immediate protection. By doing so, we still stand a good chance of conserving these species." frog

The Litoria wapogaenisi frog was recently discovered in New Guinea and is known only from the Wapoga River headwaters in Papua, Indonesia. (Photo by Steve Richards courtesy Conservation International )
Adding a small percentage of the Earth's land area to the world's existing protected area system, the study finds, can protect a disproportionately large number of species.

For example, adding just 2.6 percent of the world's land area would bring some two-thirds of unprotected species into the protected area system. But the authors acknowledge that this is easier said than done and caution that more analysis on the threats to specific species is needed.

"The global gap analysis should be regarded as a useful tool to guide the worldwide allocation of conservation spending, but cannot be regarded as the final word," said Ana Rodrigues, research fellow with CABS. "More detailed analyses using more comprehensive data will reveal numerous additional areas and species groups not highlighted by this study that also need urgent protection."