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Investment in conservation pays dividends, research shows

"This model provides a framework we can use to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity," said ecologist John Gittleman.

By Brooks Hays
New research suggests conservation investments pay off by slowing the decline of vulnerable species and preventing extinctions. Photo by jdross75/Shutterstock
New research suggests conservation investments pay off by slowing the decline of vulnerable species and preventing extinctions. Photo by jdross75/Shutterstock

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- New research suggests conservation investments aren't wasted. Most of the time, investments translate to better protected species.

During the decade following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, countries spent $14.4 billion on conservation. According to the latest analysis, those investments reduced anticipated declines in global biodiversity by 29 percent.

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A team of international researchers charted the impacts of conservation spending across dozens of countries between 1992 and 2003, comparing the size and scope of conservation efforts with shifts in trajectory of vulnerable species' conservation status. Scientists relied on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species to gauge the health of target species in various countries.

In tracking specific conservation projects, scientists made sure to allow time for impacts to materialize up in the conservation assessments of targeted species.

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The research findings -- published this week in the journal Nature -- showed conservationists get the most bang for their buck in developing countries.

"This paper sends a clear, positive message: Conservation funding works," senior author John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, said in a news release.

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Conservation funding works best in developing countries because many of the world's developing nations are home to the richest biodiversity hotspots on the planet.

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The same countries are also the most vulnerable.

In fact, 60 percent of global biodiversity losses between 1992 and 2003 were attributable to seven countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia and the United States -- mostly as a result of biodiversity loss in Hawaii.

Researchers also found that population growth and the expansion of farmland was linked with increased pressure on vulnerable species. But the latest findings offer proof that negative trends can be reversed and pressure on vulnerable species can be relieved by investing in conservation.

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"For 25 years, we have known that we need to spend more on nature conservation, or face a modern mass extinction as serious as that of the dinosaurs," said lead author Anthony Waldron of Oxford University. "But governments and donors have been unwilling to come up with the necessary budgets, often because there was little hard evidence that the money spent on conservation does any good. This finding should now encourage decision makers to re-engage with the Earth Summit's positive vision, and adequately bankroll the protection of Earth's biodiversity today."

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