Scientists Invoke Noah's Ark in Call to Avert Biodiversity Collapse

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Whether you believe in the historical accuracy of Noah's Ark or not, the story of animals being preserved in pairs to re-establish biodiversity after disaster proves that conservation of other species has concerned mankind for millenia. In the context of the biblical story, losing Noah's Ark implies the end of all species that populate the land.

Averting Modern Biodiversity Collapse

In a letter to the journal Nature, more than 200 scientists from around the world advocate action to avert "biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas."

They base their call on the largest and most representative sampling of data done to date, on a broad range of "biodiversity groups" for 60 protected areas across the world's tropical regions. Tropical forests house some of the most diverse populations of any area on Earth, even bizarre species still being discovered.

Professor William Laurance, of James Cook University (Cairns, Australia) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama) -- and corresponding author of the letter in Nature, notes that these protected areas "are like arks for biodiversity.” He adds:

But some of the ‘arks’ are in danger of sinking, even though they are our best hope to sustain tropical forests and their amazing biodiversity in perpetuity.

In their letter, the scientists conclude the data shows "erosion of biodiversity that is often alarmingly widespread taxonomically and functionally," on half of the reserves studied. "Habitat disruption, hunting and forest-product exploitation were the strongest predictors of declining reserve health," they found. Of particular concern: environmental changes just outside of the protected areas appear nearly as important as changes within the preserves, indicating that these areas cannot be managed in isolation.

Good News on Wildlife Reserves

The data does show positive results, when concentrated efforts at conservation are implemented. One of few sites that has experienced little biodiversity loss, the Udzungwa mountains of Tanzania, was on the path to devastating local species by deforestation. Conservationists succeeded to establish a national park, reversing the situation.

"Our findings indicate that concerted engagement with conservation in Udzungwa has had a positive effect in mitigating the impact of human activity on biodiversity," says Dr Andy Marshall, of the Environment Department at The University of York. Dr. Marshall's recent work in Udzungwa could be compared with data collected 20 years ago in a separate study, giving an excellent picture of the evolution of the area's biodiversity over time.

It can be hard to think about the importance of biodiversity in lands you probably have only seen in books. But put the question in terms of man's archetypal relationship with nature and how the flood stories we tell touch our shared emotional experience and common cultural concerns: What would have happened if Noah's Ark sank?

Whether you listen to the scientists or listen to your gut, the need to protect earth's precious biodiversity could not be more clear.

Tags: Biodiversity | Conservation | Forestry