Are bigger national parks good news for threatened species?

"Our study shows that existing protected areas are not doing their job effectively, leaving many species in a perilous position," says Oscar Venter. (Credit: Richard Fisher/Flickr)

Cheap land should not be the top priority as national parks plan future expansions, researchers say. Instead the focus should be on protecting land that is home to threatened species.

“A number of countries are working toward what could become the biggest expansion of protected areas in history,” says Oscar Venter, who led a study that found 85 percent of the world’s vulnerable species are not sufficiently covered by protected areas.

“It is vital that this expansion focuses on land which contains threatened flora and fauna, rather than the ‘business-as-usual’ approach of favoring land that is cheap to protect,” says Venter of the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences.

 4,118 vulnerable species

The study, published in PLOS Biology, recommends that national park expansion should focus on safeguarding the world’s 4,118 mammal, bird, and amphibian species that are vulnerable to extinction in the near term.


“Our study shows that existing protected areas are not doing their job effectively, leaving many species in a perilous position,” Venter says.

In 2010, 193 national signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity committed to increase the world’s terrestrial protected area network from 13 to 17 percent of the globe by the year 2020.

Using computer models to simulate scenarios for future protected expansion, the study’s authors discovered that these proposed new parks could miss most of the world’s unprotected biodiversity.

James Watson, an associate professor and study co-author, says the key to safeguarding the world’s most at-risk fauna and flora was to link threatened species coverage to protected area expansion, which would combine two of the commitments made by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known collectively as the Aichi Targets.

“By protecting wild areas and threatened species, we can greatly increase the chances of maintaining Earth’s biological diversity for future generations,” Watson says.

“When these goals are combined, countries are much more likely to create new parks in biologically threatened areas, which will lead to long-term dividends for global conservation.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with numerous researchers including individuals at James Cook University, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Sapienza Universitá di Roma, University of Kent, and Stanford University.

Source: University of Queensland