Informing future ecosystem conservation priorities in the tropical Andes

New research offers a pathway to reach the 30 by 30 target using the diversity of ecosystems in four South American countries

Joint iDiv and NatureServe Press Release

Washington DC/Leipzig. Only about 5% of the ecosystems of the tropical Andes biodiversity hotspot are adequately represented in designated protected areas. Representation can be determined by a set of targets proposed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which states that at least 30% of each country’s land and water should be conserved. Protecting the full diversity of ecosystems reduces the risk of extinction of the species these ecosystems support, but very few places on the planet currently meet the CBD target. There is potential to increase the representation of ecosystems meeting the CBD target to 31% (39 ecosystem types in total) in four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) through additional protection by governments and civil societies in key biodiversity areas. (KBA), places that meet the internationally recognized standard for sites that contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. This finding is illustrated in a new study conducted by NatureServe, the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), as well as other institutions in the United States, Europe and in South America. The study, now published in the journal Remote Sensing, demonstrates how essential biodiversity variables (EBVs) associated with KBAs can inform conservation decisions at multiple scales.

To effectively conserve ecosystems, scientists document and monitor their extent (mapped areas where they occur) and their conservation status over time. Combining trends in extent with degree of protection allows accurate assessment of the effectiveness of conservation actions. This is what an international research team led by NatureServe and iDiv has illustrated for conservation planning in the most biologically diverse region on earth, the tropical Andes. Using pre-industrial and recent ecosystem maps of the tropical Andes, the team measured the long-term loss of ecosystems due to intensive land uses. They then quantified the representation of ecosystem types in the region within current protected areas and the additional representation offered by the protection of key biodiversity areas.

The results revealed that only five of the 95 ecosystem types in the tropical Andes hotspot have at least 30% of their area protected – the target percentage of land and water that all countries should conserve by 2030, as the recommends the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, the number of adequately protected ecosystem types could increase to 39 when considering the ecosystems of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru if governments and civil society act to protect the key biodiversity areas – places that meet the internationally recognized standard for sites that contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity.

The researchers reached this conclusion by applying the concept of Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs), which help measure different aspects of biodiversity relevant to conservation assessment, planning and policy. EBV-based analyzes help create a baseline for assessing changes in terrestrial ecosystems to measure the impact of national policies and assess the progress of commitments towards conservation goals.

“From this study, we can see where certain ecosystems have been disproportionately lost to intensive land uses,” says Pat Comer, lead study author and chief ecologist at NatureServe. “We can also see where some of our land conservation investments have done well in securing some ecosystems while doing less well with others. By recognizing and conserving all the diversity of ecosystems, we preserve the natural framework allowing all species to survive and evolve.

The development of EBVs has involved hundreds of people over many years, including local collaborators in the tropical Andes, and has included many scientists and community members who have participated in regional and national workshops in Colombia, Ecuador, in Peru and Bolivia.

“This EBV indicator links conservation goals at global, national and local levels. More importantly, EBV responds directly to the expressed needs of people in these countries,” says second author Dr. Jose W. Valdez, postdoctoral researcher at MLU and researcher at iDiv. “Using an EBV framework can help bridge the gap between scientists and local communities and be a valuable tool for protecting ecosystems and species diversity around the world.”

“Although this study focused on the tropical Andes, the data used to map and analyze ecosystem indicators can inform continental or even global conservation decisions,” says Dr. Sean T. O’Brien, President and Chief direction of NatureServe. “This study shows that even if we have not yet sufficiently protected all natural ecosystems, we are able to improve the representation of ecosystem diversity if we protect our natural areas.”

Original edition:

(Researchers with iDiv affiliation and alumni in bold)

Comer, PJ, Valdez, JW, Pereira, HM, Acosta-Muñoz, C., Campos, F., Bonet García, FJ, Claros, X., Castro, L., Dallmeier, F., Domic Rivadeneira, E. Y , Gill, M., Josse, C., Lafuente Cartagena, I., Langstroth, R., Larrea-Alcázar, D., Masur, A., Morejon Jaramillo, G., Navarro, L., Novoa, S., Prieto-Albuja, F., Rey Ortíz, G., Teran, MF, Zambrana-Torrelio, C., Fernandez Trigoso, MA (2022): Conserving ecosystem diversity in the tropical Andes. Remote sensing. DOI: 10.3390/rs14122847

A Spanish version of this press release is available here.

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