How much is saving a species from extinction worth? A new study by an international research team suggests that of the 920 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, conifers and reef-building corals in 588 trigger sites currently listed as “Critically Endangered and Endangered,” 841 species can be pulled back from likely from extinction, but at an average cost of roughly $1.3 million per species per year.
The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, entitled “Opportunities and costs for preventing vertebrate extinctions,” is coauthored by Dalia A. Conde, Fernando Colchero, Burak Guneralp, Markus Gusset, Ben Skolnik, Michael Parr, Onnie Byers, Kevin Johnson, Glyn Young, Nate Flesness, Hugh Possingham, and John E. Fa; variously representing the Max-Planck Odense Center at the University of Southern Denmark, Imperial College of London, Australia’s University of Queensland, Texas A&M University Department of Geography, the American Bird Conservancy, the IUCN SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, the International Species Information System, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belgium, The University of Southern Denmark Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) of Plains, Virginia, the IUCN SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG),and Amphibian Ark of Apple Valley, Minnesota, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey, UK, the International Species Information System (ISIS) of Bloomington, Minnesota,
The researchers note that notwithstanding an uptick in governmental policy and management responses to the global biodiversity crisis, implementation of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets still shows insufficient progress.
Some excerpted examples of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets include to at least halve and where feasible, bring close to zero, the rate of natural habitat loss, including forests, and to establish a conservation target of 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of marine and coastal areas. Other Aichi Target objectives are to restore at least 15 percent of degraded areas through conservation and restoration activities, and to make special efforts to reduce the pressures endangering coral reefs.
These targets, or strategic goals, as defined by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), address major causes of biodiversity loss in part by establishing protected areas (Target 11) and preventing species extinctions (Target 12). To achieve this, increased interventions will be required for a large number of sites and species.
The AZE has identified the above noted 920 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, conifers and reef-building corals in 588 trigger sites which the study authors say are arguably the most irreplaceable category of important biodiversity conservation sites, and noting that protected area coverage of AZE sites is a key indicator of progress towards Target 11 (“By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”).
Moreover, they note that effective conservation of AZE sites is essential in order to achieve Target 12 (“By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained”), since loss of any of these sites would certainly result in the global extinction of at least one species.
The researchers contend that averting human-induced species extinctions within AZE sites requires enhanced planning in order to increase the likelihood of success. In their paper, the scientists assess potential for ensuring long-term conservation of AZE vertebrate species (including 157 mammals, 165 birds, 17 reptiles and 502 amphibians) by calculating a conservation opportunity index (COI) for each species that encompasses a set of measurable indicators that quantify the odds of achieving successful conservation of a species in its natural habitat (COIh) and by establishing insurance populations in zoos (COIc).
They have computed cost of and opportunity for, conserving 841 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians listed by the AZE (http://www.zeroextinction.org) now restricted to single sites and classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The estimated total cost of the proposed species rescue program would be $1.3 billion annually to safeguard all 841 species, which the scientists consider a “bargain basement” price, noting that from that total, just over $1.1 billion per year would go towards conserving the species in their natural habitats with the remainder going for complementary species management in zoos.
One of the Current Biology paper’s coauthors is Burak Guneralp, a Research Assistant Professor, in the Texas A&M University‘s Department of Geography. Prof Guneralp is cited in a Texas A&M Today release noting: “Habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human activities including expansion of urban areas is a major factor putting at risk many of the species in the AZE list. There are about 17,000 species that are now threatened with extinction, and there have been five mass extinctions including the one that killed the dinosaurs. Because of habitat loss and fragmentation, many scientists believe that we are now living during the sixth mass extinction period.”
University of Queensland Professor Hugh Possingham comments that “Although the cost seems high, safeguarding these species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020,” adding: “When compared to global government spending on other sectors (such as U.S. defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater), an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor.”
“AZE sites are arguably the most irreplaceable category of important biodiversity conservation sites,” says paper lead author assistant professor Dalia A. Conde of the Max-Planck Odense Center at the University of Southern Denmark, in the TAMU article. “Conservation opportunity evaluations like ours show the urgency of implementing management actions before it is too late. It is imperative to rationally determine actions for species that we found to have the lowest chances of successful habitat and zoo conservation actions”
The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)
Texas A&M University
Convention on Biodiversity
Texas A&M University