Global species loss is occurring at such a rapid rate, some scientists say the Sixth Mass Extinction has already begun. Though humans seem to be a primary factor in species loss, that doesn't mean we can't also take preventative action to protect ecosystems. The first global camera trap mammal study, released in the scientific journal PLOS Biology, demonstrates that protected areas in tropical forests are doing better than previous studies had suggested and that legal protections seem to generally succeed at halting species loss in a particular area. The researchers from the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) used camera traps to monitor the area and gather data. Over the course of the study, the team collected 2.5 million photos of everyday life in 15 protected tropical forests in Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
The team monitored 244 species of ground-dwelling mammals and birds throughout the course of the study. Using their gathered data, they determined 17 percent of the target animal populations increased while 22 percent remained constant and 22 percent decreased. These results strongly suggest that biodiversity did not decline in protected areas, giving hope that policy can be effective against species loss.
“At a time when environmental concerns are taking center stage, these results show that protected areas play an important role in maintaining biodiversity,” says Jorge Ahumada, study co-author and executive director of the TEAM Network. “Our study reflects a more optimistic outlook about the effectiveness of protected areas. For the first time we are not relying on disparate data sources, but rather using primary data collected in a standardized way across a range of protected areas throughout the world. With this data we have created a public resource that can be used by governments or others in the conservation community to inform decisions.”
The ultimate impact of protecting tropical forests has yet to be seen. “Protected areas, such as national parks, are the cornerstone of species conservation, but whether protected areas really sustain animal populations and prevent extinction has been debated,” says Lydia Beaudrot, study co-author and professor at the University of Michigan. “This is particularly true for tropical areas, which are oftentimes understudied and for which there is a lack of high-quality data.”
The database created by the team is already being put to use in places like Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The data indicated that a decline in sightings of African golden cats was due to the heavy traffic of eco-tourists in a particular area. Since then, travelers have been redirected away from that area and the golden cats are once again back in the neighborhood.
Images via TEAM