top of page

Study conclusively shows that conservation efforts effectively stop and reverse biodiversity loss

Gustavo Sosa, a local crocodile expert, guides Re:wild Ambassador Abril Schreiber as she releases a Cuban crocodile into the wild.
Gustavo Sosa, a local crocodile expert, guides Re:wild Ambassador Abril Schreiber as she releases a Cuban crocodile into the wild. (CREDIT: Robin Moore, Re:wild)


A groundbreaking study published in Science offers the most compelling evidence to date that conservation efforts are not only successful but crucial for reversing the global decline of biodiversity. This decline threatens ecosystems critical for everything from clean water to climate stability.


The research, the first-ever comprehensive analysis of conservation interventions, comes at a pivotal moment. With over 44,000 species facing extinction, understanding the effectiveness of conservation efforts is paramount. Governments have recently set ambitious goals to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, making such insights even more critical.


 
 

"Looking solely at species decline trends, one might think biodiversity protection is failing," says lead author Penny Langhammer, executive vice president of Re:wild. "This study demonstrates that conservation is working to curb and reverse this decline. We need to prioritize conservation with increased resources and political support while addressing the root causes of biodiversity loss, like unsustainable consumption."


Previous studies have examined individual conservation projects, but this research is the first to combine them into a single analysis, revealing the overall effectiveness of conservation efforts.


 
 

The researchers analyzed 186 studies encompassing 665 trials that evaluated the impact of various conservation interventions globally across different timeframes. These interventions included establishing and managing protected areas, controlling invasive species, promoting sustainable ecosystem management, and habitat restoration.


The analysis revealed that these interventions, compared to inaction, improved biodiversity or slowed its decline in a significant majority (66%) of cases. Additionally, successful interventions yielded substantial positive outcomes.


 

Related Stories

 

For instance, managing invasive predators on Florida's barrier islands significantly boosted nesting success for loggerhead turtles and least terns compared to unmanaged areas. Similarly, logging concessions with Forest Management Plans in the Congo Basin exhibited 74% lower deforestation rates compared to those without such plans.


"When conservation works, it truly works," explains co-author Jake Bicknell, a conservation scientist at DICE, University of Kent. "Interventions often lead to significantly better outcomes for biodiversity than doing nothing. Efforts to increase endangered species populations have frequently resulted in substantial population growth."


 
 

Even in unsuccessful cases, researchers gained valuable insights to refine their methods. For example, removing invasive algae in India unintentionally facilitated its spread due to fragmentation during removal. This knowledge allows conservationists to develop more effective strategies.


Cuban Crocodile hatchings  in the Zapata Swamp breeding sanctuary in August 2019.
Cuban Crocodile hatchings in the Zapata Swamp breeding sanctuary in August 2019. (CREDIT: Robin Moore, Re:wild)


The study also suggests a correlation between recent interventions and positive outcomes, potentially reflecting improvements in conservation effectiveness over time. Increased funding and more targeted interventions might also contribute to this trend.


 
 

Interestingly, some unsuccessful interventions for target species inadvertently benefited other native species. For instance, protected areas, while lowering seahorse populations due to increased predator abundance, might benefit other species unintentionally.


Virunga National Park rangers. Rangers play a key role in safeguarding protected areas, one of the key conservation actions included in the meta-analysis.
Virunga National Park rangers. Rangers play a key role in safeguarding protected areas, one of the key conservation actions included in the meta-analysis. (CREDIT: Bobby Neptune)


"Despite ongoing declines, optimism is warranted," remarks co-author Joseph Bull, Associate Professor at the University of Oxford's Department of Biology. "Conservation interventions generally outperform inaction, and even in unsuccessful cases, losses are comparatively limited."


 
 

The economic argument for conservation is also compelling. Over half of the global GDP, roughly $44 trillion, relies moderately or heavily on nature. Studies estimate that a comprehensive global conservation program would require an investment between $178 billion and $524 billion, primarily in biodiversity hotspots.


Ugwono Pauline planting Gnetum (okok) in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon. The sustainable management of ecosystems was one conservation action included in the meta-analysis.
Ugwono Pauline planting Gnetum (okok) in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon. The sustainable management of ecosystems was one conservation action included in the meta-analysis. (CREDIT: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR)


Notably, in 2022, global fossil fuel subsidies, detrimental to nature, amounted to a staggering $7 trillion – 13 times the highest annual amount needed for global conservation efforts. Currently, over $121 billion is invested annually in conservation globally, and studies suggest an effective global program could offer a cost-benefit ratio of at least 100:1.


 
 

"Science clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of conservation efforts," emphasizes Claude Gascon, co-author and director of strategy and operations at the Global Environment Facility. "Sustained investment is crucial to ensure lasting positive impacts.


This study arrives at a critical juncture, with the world embracing ambitious global biodiversity targets that necessitate conservation efforts on an unprecedented scale. Achieving these goals is not only possible but well within our reach with appropriate prioritization."


The study emphasizes the need for further investment in effective protected area management, a cornerstone of many conservation efforts. Consistent with previous research, this study finds that well-managed protected areas are highly effective. When they are not, it's typically due to inadequate resources and management.


 
 

Looking ahead, the researchers call for more rigorous studies evaluating a wider range of conservation interventions, including pollution control, climate change adaptation, and sustainable resource use, across a broader range of countries.


"For over 75 years, IUCN has championed the global exchange of conservation practices," says Grethel Aguilar, IUCN director general. "This study analyzes conservation outcomes with the rigor of applied disciplines like medicine and engineering – demonstrating genuine impact and guiding the transformative change needed to safeguard nature worldwide. It underscores the effectiveness of conservation efforts from species to ecosystem levels across all continents. This analysis, led by Re:wild in collaboration with IUCN members and experts, has the potential to usher in a new era in conservation practice."






For more science stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by the The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.


 

Comments


Most Recent Stories

bottom of page