Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Complex Effects of Biosphere Reserves

Source: "Accelerated Human Population Growth at Protected Area Edges" by George Wittemyer, Paul Elsen, William T. Bean, A. Coleman O. Burton and Justin S. Brashares.
Science 4 July 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5885, pp. 123 - 126

A number of researchers from U.C. Berkeley have published a report in the current issue of Science magazine with the following Abstract:
Protected areas (PAs) have long been criticized as creations of and for an elite few, where associated costs, but few benefits, are borne by marginalized rural communities. Contrary to predictions of this argument, we found that average human population growth rates on the borders of 306 PAs in 45 countries in Africa and Latin America were nearly double average rural growth, suggesting that PAs attract, rather than repel, human settlement. Higher population growth on PA edges is evident across ecoregions, countries, and continents and is correlated positively with international donor investment in national conservation programs and an index of park-related funding. These findings provide insight on the value of PAs for local people, but also highlight a looming threat to PA effectiveness and biodiversity conservation.
The article suggests the complexity of the landscape management challenge required by biosphere reserves. Without a global network of biosphere reserves that really work, mankind will lose access to huge amounts of biodiversity, with grave economic as well as cultural impacts. It is increasingly recognized that in poor countries, there has to be a development component in the management of a bioreserve to provide economic opportunities to the local population. Not only is such development ethically required, but it seems likely that local populations will otherwise over exploit what is intended to be the reserve. This paper, however, suggests that this approach may ultimately be self defeating, if the population growth around the bioreserve leads ultimately to its overexploitation anyway.

The UNESCO program on Man, Biodiversity and Ecology provides an international mechanism for research on such issues. Indeed, its World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which includes 531 sites, provides one of the most effective (and cost-effective) means to encourage African, Asian and Latin American nations to set aside bioreserves and to develop sound plans for their protection. The Network also provides a means for a global community of scientists to collaborate in developing the knowledge and understanding for the management of bioreserves.

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