Investing in biodiversity conservation pays off

By Julia John

The endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), which conservation investments rescued from the brink of extinction, prepares for flight. ©Scott Frier

Countries around the world have invested millions in slowing biodiversity loss to meet international treaty commitments. But is conservation funding paying off on the ground?

A new global study says yes. Money put toward protecting wildlife in the past two decades has prevented a 30 percent decline in species’ conservation statuses.

“If we hadn’t spent the money, we would have lost about a third more biodiversity than we did,” said Anthony Waldron, lead author on the paper published in Nature.

A research fellow at the National University of Singapore, Waldron and his colleagues examined the impact of conservation spending on declining birds and mammals in over 100 nations that signed onto the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They modeled how investments from 1992 to 2008 countered the effects of intensifying human stressors — including population growth, economic development and agricultural expansion — and kept species from moving closer to extinction in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s assessments.

The researchers found that on average, a 29 percent decrease in the rate of biodiversity loss followed conservation financing in each country.

“Once you’ve committed the money, within five to 15 years, you see a reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss,” Waldron said. For countries to see an even greater reduction, he said, “spend more.”

That’s particularly true in species-rich places where “funding hasn’t kept up with the increase in pressures,” Waldron said, including the United States, where islands like Hawaii and Guam face “a biodiversity catastrophe” but the financial cost of conservation is higher than in much of the world.

Waldron’s team is currently calculating the minimum funding that governments worldwide would need to stop further declines.

“There’s increasing resistance to spending money, increasing cynicism about whether it’s doing any good,” he said. “The money’s working, but it wasn’t enough. Let’s put away the cynicism and go for sufficient funding.”

Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

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