Mistaken Theory Harms Conservation Efforts, UK Study Shows
LONDON Efforts to save endangered species have until now been based on a mistaken theory that if one species in an area is under threat, all species there are in danger, according to scientists at London's Imperial College.
In a study published in the science journal Nature, the scientists said it was wrong to use the plight of one species in a risk "hot spot" as an indicator of the threat facing all others in that area.
"There is a big chance that conservation efforts to date have been misfiring," co-author Ian Owens told Reuters on Wednesday. "This shows that we need a change of tack now.
The scientists looked at species abundance in grids measuring 100 km by 100 km to draw up the most detailed world map to date of mammals, birds and amphibians.
What emerged was a radically different picture from that dictated by common conservation theory, which takes one species as an indicator for all.
"Overall, our results indicate that 'silver-bullet' conservation strategies alone will not deliver efficient conservation solutions," they wrote.
"Until we go to individual locations we can't be sure. But this study undermines the old assumption that because one species is rare in one area, then all species there will be in the same position," Owens said.
"It is really important not to assume that there are simply a number of hotspots across the globe where everything living is endangered.
"The picture is far more complicated, with mammal, bird and amphibian numbers being threatened by different things in different locations," he added.
While endangered bird species are often at risk because their habitats are being destroyed, mammals like tigers face pressure from poachers, and amphibians may be threatened by imported non-native fish, he said.
"The good side is that this sort of database that we have developed now will enable us to be far more efficient in conservation measures in the future," Owens said.
He urged governments not to take the results of the study as a reason to delay conservation efforts until they have more detailed information.
"My hope is that we won't have that sort of effect and that this will enable us to go forward far more effectively," Owens said. "The simple message to governments and conservation agencies is -- keep doing what you are doing, but do it better."