June 29, 2008

Species Come Second to Conservation Costs

By Luntz, Stephen

Dr Michael Bode of the University of Queensland's Ecology Centre has called for conservationists to take the cost of conserving locations, rather than just the number of endangered species, into account when prioritising areas for protection. "We should worry more about costs of conservation and other socioeconomic factors and obsess less about exactly what species is where," Bode says. Bode sees advantages beyond simply anticipating the responses of legislators or donors. "Our research means that in many cases we no longer need to collect huge amounts of detailed, expensive biological information on where all these groups are found before we know where to act," he says. "We can act now."

Bode's work, originally conducted as part of his PhD diesis, has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His co-author, Dr Kerrie Wilson, argues: "Quite simply, the science behind prioritising areas for conservation has not been conclusive. Traditionally you would identify places where there are lots of species found nowhere else. If these places have lost a lot of their original habitat then they are generally called 'biodiversity hotspots' and are considered key priorities for conservation spending."

However, Wilson says: "Important issues such as the relative cost of conservation are often not explicitly incorporated". A global list of biodiversity hotspots includes the Californian coast and the French Riviera, two of the most expensive pieces of real estate around.

Prof Hugh Possingham was Bode's supervisor and adds: "Places like Madagascar and the Horn of Africa give conservation agencies a much better return on investment from their biodiversity dollar".

Bode acknowledges there are limits to the applicability of his work. Although money has been donated to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on the basis of it being used wherever it will do the most good, many of the donors are from California and may be more likely to donate to local work. However, he says that "the process is scaleable, so it might be applicable to working out the areas to choose within California".

Bode argues that the costs of maintaining locations also needs consideration. The Madagascar! government has committed to protecting 10% of its territory, but Bode is concerned that "if you don't have parks in areas where people are happy to have them they can end up being 'paper parks' marked on the map but not really protected".

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