Study shows that conservation actions are effective at halting and reversing biodiversity loss

Olivia Miller
Picture by Robin Moore, Re:wild
Cuban Crocodile hatchings in the Zapata Swamp breeding sanctuary in August 2019

Researchers from the University’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) have been involved in a new international study which provides the strongest evidence to date that not only is nature conservation successful, but that scaling conservation interventions up would be transformational for halting and reversing biodiversity loss – a crisis that can lead to ecosystem collapses and a planet less able to support life – and reducing the effects of climate change.

Published in the scientific journal Science, the findings of this first-ever comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of conservation action are crucial as more than 44,000 species are documented as being at risk of extinction, with tremendous consequences for the ecosystems that stabilise the climate and that provide billions of people around the world with clean water, livelihoods, homes, and cultural preservation, among other ecosystem services. Governments recently adopted new global targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, making it even more critical to understand whether conservation interventions are working.

The co-authors, including DICE’s Dr Jake Bicknell, conducted the first-ever meta-analysis of 186 studies, including 665 trials, that looked at the impact of a wide range of conservation interventions globally, and over time, compared to what would have happened without those interventions. The studies covered over a century of conservation action and evaluated actions targeting different levels of biodiversity – species, ecosystems and genetic diversity.

The meta-analysis found that conservation actions – including the establishment and management of protected areas, the eradication and control of invasive species, the sustainable management of ecosystems, habitat loss reduction and restoration – improved the state of biodiversity or slowed its decline in the majority of cases (66%) compared with no action taken at all. And when conservation interventions work, the paper’s co-authors found that they are highly effective.

Dr Bicknell said: ‘Our study shows that when conservation actions work, they really work. In other words, they often lead to outcomes for biodiversity that are not just a little bit better than doing nothing at all, but many times greater. For instance, putting measures in place to boost the population size of an endangered species has often seen their numbers increase substantially. This effect has been mirrored across a large proportion of the case studies we looked at.’

Penny Langhammer, lead author of the study and executive vice president of Re:wild, added: ‘If you look only at the trend of species declines, it would be easy to think that we’re failing to protect biodiversity, but you would not be looking at the full picture. What we show with this paper is that conservation is, in fact, working to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. It is clear that conservation must be prioritised and receive significant additional resources and political support globally, while we simultaneously address the systemic drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable consumption and production.’

The research involved conservationists from the universities of Kent, Oxford, York, Freiburg and Arizona State, alongside Re:wild, Zoological Society of London, and BirdLife International among others.

Further information is available here.