doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.106 Published online 25 July 2012
About half of the world's tropical reserve forests are experiencing an alarming erosion of biodiversity, including some in the Indian terrain, according to a new global analysis.
Sampling protected areas in 36 countries, researchers have compiled data from across the African, American and Asia-Pacific tropics to look at the changes over the past 20 to 30 years in 31 functional groups of species and 21 potential drivers of environmental change.
They conclude from this analysis that many protected areas in the tropics are vulnerable to human encroachment and other environmental stresses. Their report fills the gap in data describing a broad array of biodiversity groups for a sufficiently large and representative sample of reserves.
In India, researchers from four Bangalore-based bodies Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment(ATREE), Wildlife Conservation Society, Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Science participated in the analysis. Besides Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore; Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun; World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), New Delhi; Pondicherry University, Puducherry; Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and Vesta B in Thane, Maharashtra also contributed to the global study.
The strongest predictors of declining reserve health, as outlined by the analysis, were habitat disruption, hunting and forest-product exploitation. Environmental changes immediately outside reserves also seemed to determine their ecological fate. Changes inside the reserve forests were a reflection of those occurring around them, the study found.
"These findings suggest that tropical protected areas are often intimately linked ecologically to their surrounding habitats, and that a failure to stem broad-scale loss and degradation of such habitats could sharply increase the likelihood of serious biodiversity declines," the researchers conclude.