Most Irreplaceable Habitats
November 15, 2013

IUCN Names The World’s Most Irreplaceable Habitats

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A team of international scientists has identified the world’s protected areas that are the most important to stopping animal extinctions in a new report published by the journal Science.

Using data on over 170,000 protected areas and assessments of nearly 22,000 species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the team assessed each protected area for the long-term prospects of birds, mammals and amphibians.

The researchers identified 78 sites, which included almost 140 protected areas in 34 countries, that are irreplaceable with respect to preserving species. These sites host the majority of the populations of over 600 animals, half of which are globally threatened.

Some of the sites named in the report host animals so unique, an analogous area cannot be found anywhere else. For example, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is home to the Laysan Duck, considered “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN Red List. Many of these areas, such as the Galápagos Islands and India’s Western Ghats, are already designated as having ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

“These exceptional places would all be strong candidates for World Heritage status,” said Soizic Le Saout, lead author of the study from the Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive in France. “Such recognition would ensure effective protection of the unique biodiversity in these areas, given the rigorous standards required for World Heritage sites.”

The researchers said their report differs from previous assessments by emphasizing the need for improving the management of many existing protected areas.

“Páramo Urrao National Protective Forests Reserves, in Colombia, for example, does not really exist,” said Paul Salaman, CEO of the Rainforest Trust who was not directly involved in the study. “It was legally created in 1975, but this was never translated into on-the-ground management.”

“Protected areas can only fulfill their role in reducing biodiversity loss if they are effectively managed,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “Given limited conservation budgets, that is not always the case, so governments should pay particular attention to the management effectiveness of highly irreplaceable protected areas.”

This study expands on previous research conducted to create The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the World Database on Protected Areas. The list is considered the international standard for assessing global conservation status of various species. It assigns species to one of eight categories of threat based on population trends, population size and geographic range.

The World Database on Protected Areas is a reference for conservation decision making such as environmental impact analysis. It is based on information from national governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and many other sources.

The study also comes one year before the World Parks Congress in Sydney. Held every ten years, the congress is expected to set the agenda for conservation in the coming decade.

“The ultimate aim of the Congress is to position parks and protected areas firmly within broader goals of economic and community wellbeing,” said a statement on the conference’s official website. “In Sydney, meeting the challenges of sustainable development and contributing to community wellbeing will be achieved by increasing understanding of the vital role of protected areas in conserving biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services.”