Research Press Release

Environment: Protecting global forest biodiversity


August 18, 2022

An approach designed to maximize the number of plant species conserved in the world’s forests by focusing on where and when it is best to target different regions is presented in a Nature paper. The findings highlight the potential conservation benefits of carefully targeted investments.

Deforestation poses a major threat to biodiversity because forests are home to the vast majority of known terrestrial plant and animal species. Since 1990, deforestation has reduced forest area by 420 million hectares globally, largely as a result of agricultural expansion. With limited resources, deciding where and when is best to conserve forests remains challenging.

Ian Luby and colleagues used a dynamic optimization approach to identify when and where conservation efforts should be focused to protect plant species in forested ecoregions (regions characterized by distinctive climate, plant and animal communities) globally over the next 50 years, using an annual budget of US$1 billion. The approach included several considerations for conservation planning, such as species richness, costs of conservation, existing levels of protection, deforestation rate, and the potential for reforestation in each ecoregion. The authors found that the optimal solution would protect 23,680 additional species, compared to no conservation spending, and protect forests in 127 out of 458 forested ecoregions. The strategy should initially target a small number of ecoregions where further deforestation would lead to large reductions in species and where the costs of conservation are low. In later years, conservation efforts should spread to more ecoregions, investing in both the expanded protection of primary forest and reforestation. The largest gains in species conservation were found to be in regions rich in biodiversity but poorer financially, such as Melanesia, South and Southeast Asia, the Anatolian peninsula, northern South America and Central America.

Integrating local knowledge and capacity, support from national governments and global prioritization efforts could help to ensure that the time and money invested in conservation efforts are well spent, the authors argue.


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