Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The cost to avoid extinction

Falco punctatus
It seems to me that today every discussion on biodiversity or conservation revolves around costs and monetary benefits. The question is if we can put realistic values on biodiversity, e.g. can we put a price tag on, lets say, the efforts to save a species from becoming extinct? 

An international team of researchers was asking this question and they were able to calculate such a value for a subset of species. They computed the cost of, and opportunities for, conserving 841 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians listed by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) as restricted to single sites and categorized as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The  colleagues developed a "conservation opportunity index" using measurable indicators to quantify the possibility of achieving successful conservation of a species, both in its natural habitat and by establishing insurance populations in zoos. 

The total cost: only $1.3 billion per year to safeguard all 841 species, which translates into $1.3 million per species per year, but only if conservation efforts are put in place immediately to ensure habitat protection and management. Of the total, a little over $1.1 billion per year would go towards conserving the species in their natural habitats and the rest for complementary management in zoos. 

Although the cost seems high, safeguarding these species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020. 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.

While the study indicated that 39 % of the species scored high for conservation opportunities, it also showed that at least 15 of the species are in imminent danger of extinction given their low conservation opportunity index. This low index is due to one or a combination of different factors such as: high probability of its habitat becoming urbanized, political instability in the site and/or high costs of habitat protection and management. Additionally, the opportunity of establishing an insurance population in zoos for these 15 species is low, either due to high costs or lack of breeding expertise for the species.

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 question is not one of protecting a species in the wild or in zoos. The One Plan approach - effective integration of planning, and the optimal use of limited resources, across the spectrum of management from wild to zoo - is essential if we are to have a hope of achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets

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