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Paper reveals nature conservation knowledge is a bargain

17 August 2016
Photo: Mark Prince CC BY 2.0

A new study released today finds that the knowledge databases which underpin nature conservation and environmental decision-making – such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ - cost US$ 6.5 million annually to manage, plus the dedication of thousands of volunteers. 

The authors estimated that US$ 160 million plus 293 volunteer-years have been invested to date in developing these datasets, and the shortfall to complete the datasets is approximately US$ 114 million.

“This may sound expensive, but these costs are extremely low when compared with other societal expenditures, such as the Global Observing System for Climate, which required US$ 5 – 7 billion to maintain in 2010,” says Melanie Heath, Director of Science, Policy and Information at BirdLife International. “To put this in perspective, the annual consumer spending on soft drinks is in the order of US$ 380 billion. Investing in these crucial datasets represents a bargain for society – the costs to create and curate them are easily outweighed by the benefits they deliver.”

Effective decision-making by governments, the private sector and civil society requires robust information on various aspects of biodiversity in order to reverse the current biodiversity crisis – and protect the future of life on the planet. Large databases need to be maintained in order to know with confidence which species and ecosystems are under greatest threat; which are the most important areas for threatened species; and where conservation action needs to be targeted.

Such knowledge banks include The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, which categorises the extinction risk of over 80,000 species worldwide. Similarly, detailed global datasets document over 18,000 of the most important individual sites for biodiversity (the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas) and over 200,000 formally-designated protected areas (Protected Planet).

The newest product is the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, with developmental work underway across more than 50 countries, and a preliminary assessment documenting the status of some 400 Red-Listed ecosystems in the Americas.

These repositories of information are critical in assessing national progress towards global commitments like the Aichi biodiversity targets and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. They are extensively consulted by scientists and governments, and are essential for directing tens of billions of dollars of loans to the private sector each year through the International Finance Corporation and the Equator Principles Banks.

“Despite these well-documented uses, there has been little information to date on how much investment is required to generate and maintain these data,” says Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “This paper at last fills this gap. We must urgently look at new and innovative sources to support the development and maintenance of these critical databases which provide a roadmap to enable us to build a sustainable future.”

“Investment is needed not only to keep the databases up to date but also to extend their coverage to important groups which are very under-represented at present,” adds Colin Clubbe, Head of Conservation Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “For example, only a few per cent of plant species have been evaluated for the Red List, despite their fundamental importance to life on earth, and other groups such as fungi and insects are even more poorly represented.”

Working with 43 experts from 29 different institutions, the authors first estimated how much has been spent to date in developing the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, Protected Planet, and the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas. They then evaluated current annual investment, and finally total investment necessary to establish comprehensive baselines for each dataset – with complete coverage of all countries, ecosystems and better-known species groups.

“The motivation for the study came from the private sector,” says Diego Juffe-Bignoli, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and lead author. “Companies which subscribe to the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool – which provides financial support for Protected Planet, another of the datasets we costed in this research – often ask us how much investment would be necessary to maintain these critical data in perpetuity. Now we have an answer.”

The sustainable long-term financing of all of the datasets considered in the paper will be among the issues for consideration at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i, USA, 1–10 September, 2016.

The paper, Assessing the cost of global biodiversity and conservation knowledge, was published today in PLOS ONE.



IUCN expresses its gratitude to Dr Simon Stuart on his retirement from the Union

08 August 2016
Dr Simon Stuart, IUCN Species Survival Commission Chair (2008-2016). Photo: EAD

Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), will be retiring after 30 years with IUCN. He will join Synchronicity Earth, a UK-based conservation charity, as Conservation Director.

Dr Stuart has been an integral part of IUCN and a pillar of the Union’s renowned work on species conservation. He started work on the African Bird Red Data Book in 1983 before joining the Secretariat in 1986. During his tenure, Dr Stuart headed IUCN's Species Programme, served as Acting Director General and led the Biodiversity Assessment Unit. Dr Stuart has been Chair of the SSC since 2008 and has now served two terms in this prominent position, the maximum allowed by IUCN Statutes.

Inger Andersen, Director General of IUCN, says: “Simon has been a central figure and major shaper of IUCN over these past 30 years. It is difficult to overstate his contribution and dedication to the Union and its mission. We wish him every success in his new role and look forward to a continued close collaboration.”

Dr Stuart will take on his new role at Synchronicity Earth in January 2017. He will be working on a new initiative which seeks to reduce extinction rates and help promote the recovery of threatened species, thus continuing his lifelong commitment to nature conservation. Adam and Jessica Sweidan, founders of Synchronicity Earth in 2009, are IUCN Patrons of Nature.

Fierce yet fragile: Coexistence in a changing world

31 July 2016

Tigers once inhabited vast parts of Asia, from Indonesia to the Central Asian states; they have now vanished from over 90% of their former range. On International Tiger Day we look at how IUCN's tiger programme is helping humans and tigers coexist – and making sure these magnificent predators survive in the wild. 

Photo: IUCN / Steve Winter

Fierce yet fragile: see the full multimedia article

Reconnecting wildlife habitats - Can Htamanthi Become a Source Site for Tigers?

28 July 2016
Clouded Leopard by David Ellis (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the last hundred years, tiger habitat has been significantly fragmented and transformed into isolated patches of habitats. A particular site can hold breeding females and a viable population (source), while a neighbouring one might have been depleted by poaching (sink). The key in this case is to recreate connectivity via corridors to allow the animals from source populations to disperse into sink habitats and to alleviate the damages when a disaster occurs.

Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary (2,151 km2) is roughly 80% closed forest that is semi-evergreen, deciduous, and teak bearing. Like many other tiger sanctuaries, it faces major threats to tiger habitat, prey, and the tigers themselves. However, past and present studies show that there is hope for the cats in this sanctuary.

IUCNMyanmar conducted nationwide tiger surveys during 1999-2002. Three sites had confirmed tigers – Hukaung Valley, Htamanthi and Tanintharyi. Another study in the 1990s estimated the Htamanthi population of tigers to be about 15 individuals.

Recent studies in Htamanthi indicated the continued presence of seven Asian wild cats – Tiger, Leopard, Clouded leopard, Golden cat, Marbled cat, Jungle cat, and Leopard cat. This diversity is indicative of a robust ecosystem with a solid prey base of herbivores such as Gaur, Sambar deer, Barking deer, and Eurasian wild pig.

There have been few records of tigers moving across the greater Htamanthi region in recent years. But decades ago, the entire stretch of land was connected, with tigers, elephants and other animals dispersing freely across international borders. Today, limitations to tiger movement between India and Myanmar don’t arise from lack of green cover, but more from small-scale hunting and lack of prey.

Individual tiger captured by camera trap / WCSRecently, tiger tracks were reported extensively in both the buffer zone and villages surrounding Htamanthi by community engagement teams. In the same period, patrol teams, confirmed the presence of other threatened species throughout the sanctuary. In the core management area, three tigers were captured by the same camera trap (picture above). This suggests that the core area is crucial to the social relationships of these tigers. Other tigers were also recently photographed in Htamanthi.

Htamanthi sits close to the international border close to where there are important tiger landscapes in India. In February 2016, a tiger, dispersing through the community-managed forests of the Nagaland in India, was unfortunately shot by villagers. The first official record of tigers in Nagaland in the past decade, this incident brings to light that there is still movement of tigers through this region. Immediately after the tiger was discovered and photographed, WCS-India worked with the Nagaland State Forest Department and WCS-Myanmar to confirm that this tiger was not one of any of the known tigers of Myanmar.

Following this incident WCS India, its local partner, Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust, and the State Forest Department engaged with local community leaders in Nagaland to emphasize the importance of providing the occasional dispersing tigers with a free pass. And shortly thereafter these communities reported a possible second tiger to the Nagaland State Forest Department and to WCS. Their positive response shows us that, with support from conservationists, Nagaland can serve as a link between resident tiger populations in India, and habitats in Myanmar, such as Htamanthi.

Habitat for tiger and their prey in Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary / WCSWith good conditions for prey and being a manageable size, Htamanthi could host a vital transboundary source population. The success of the site through a source-sink model relies on securing habitat connectivity in the north (Hukaung Valley), the west (Naga Hills), and tiger reserves in India. Future study of potential connectivity for tigers between high-density source populations in India, such as the Kaziranga National Park and habitat in Myanmar, could guide future tiger recovery programmes in Myanmar.

Written by Hla Naing, WCS Myanmar & Divya Vasudev, WCS India

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