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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. 

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“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.”

Related: Santos, Brazil is bringing attention to biodiversity with street guides and the country’s first urban birdwatching tower

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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.”

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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.

+ Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM)

Images via TEAM