Hot moments for biodiversity conservation – Social and political transitions as opportunities for conservation

Posted 01/28/13

Whether timing is an important element of protected areas creation and conservation action had rarely been asked before. This study asked whether there are hot moments for conservation - times when opportunities to create or expand protected areas will have the highest success. Understanding the importance and prevalence of hot moments for conservation, and what the catalysts are for these windows of opportunity, may provide valuable insights for prioritizing conservation actions and increasing effectiveness.

Drs. Volker Radeloff and Anna Pidgeon and their collaborators recently published a paper in Conservation Letters that looks at protected areas and conservation actions through a temporal lens. Conservation hotspots (i.e., areas with high biodiversity or rare species) are recognized as priority areas to target for conservation action, but the role of timing to protect these hotspots has not been explored.This study found that certain time intervals within countries were indeed consistently hot moments for conservation. Charting the growth of the total area of protected areas over time shows a stepwise increase as large blocks are added over short periods of time (Figure 1). Among all the 35 countries that harbor the bulk of the protected areas globally, , more than 44 % protected more than half of their protected areas in 1 year. Extending the time frame to five years, the number of countries increases to 61%. Similar trends of protected areas growth held up across all regions of the world that were analyzed, and the strongest hot moments were often seen in less developed regions (Figure 2). Major regime changes such as the breakup of the Soviet Union and the transition from the colonial era in Africa corresponded to major increases in protected eras. For example, Volker recalls the turmoil during the end of the communist regime in his native Germany in the late 1980’s and the reunification effort that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Germans were open to change and hope for the future was high, the time was ripe for conservation action and more than 7% of Germany’s protected areas were created in this short time period of social and political change. Opportunities for conservation extended beyond societal and regime shifts. In the United States conservation actions corresponded to administration changes, with a prime example being the creation of 321,900 km2 of protected lands by President Carter after his loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The study cautions against trying to predict the next great shift in society or government around the world, but offers some concrete suggestions on how to capitalize on biodiversity hot moments. Monitoring political climates in each country can narrow the field, but perhaps more important is surveying conservation practitioners on the ground in each country who can give an informed assessment of how favorable the current government is to conservation and what opportunities may exist in the immediate future for conservation actions. The Arab Spring and current regime shifts in the Middle East provide a current example of a potential hot moment for conservation.

Strength of hot moments in each of 35 countries as the percentage of total protected areas that were set aside in either a single year, a 3-year window, or a 5-year window. The diamonds show Gini coeffcients for each country, a measure of the …

Story by Schilke, Paul