International study finds areas protecting wildlife are doing good job but need support

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Megan Barnes, (808) 462-6449
Postdoctoral Researcher, Natural Resources and Environmental Management
Frederika Bain, (808) 956-3092
Writer/editor, Office of Communication Services
Posted: Sep 6, 2016

Dr. Megan Barnes
Dr. Megan Barnes
Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo credit Alison Woodley.
Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo credit Alison Woodley.
Leopard in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Photo credit Alison Woodley.
Leopard in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Photo credit Alison Woodley.

An international study published in the journal Nature Communications found that most protected areas around the world, most notably in wealthier and more developed countries, are successfully safeguarding wildlife. This suggests the continued need for adequate support of these parks.

“National Parks are the cornerstone of most country’s conservation plans, so it’s essential they work as well as possible,” said lead author Dr. Megan Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management in UH Mānoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. The study is the largest investigation of wildlife trends in protected areas to date.

The study, which Dr. Barnes did while working at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at the University of Queensland, also included UNEP-WCMC and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It examined 1902 populations of 556 species of birds and mammals in 447 PAs across 72 countries between 1970 and 2010.

The good news is that, on average, protected areas are successfully overseeing wildlife populations within their boundaries. “To make sure that parks achieve their conservation mission, we investigated what made them tick, what conditions resulted in improved wildlife trends, and what might create barriers to successful conservation in protected areas,” said Dr. Barnes.  

“Unexpectedly, we also found the largest-bodied wildlife were doing the best, the giraffes and buffalo had more positive populations than smaller species like jackals,” said study author Dr. Ian Craigie from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Co-author Dr. Tom Brooks, IUCN Head of Science, emphasized that “management must target the full range of species to meet goals of halting biodiversity decline.”

Socio-economic conditions of countries in which the protected areas were located were found to be far more important in influencing the success of parks than often-cited factors such as protected area size, design or type. It was found that positive social and economic conditions supporting protected areas are critical for the successful maintenance of their wildlife populations. “It’s important to tailor protected area management strategies to social and political conditions,” said Dr. Barnes, adding that “wildlife protection needs strong national governance to be successful.”

The study highlights the need for effective management of parks, and suggests that it is not sufficient only to create new parks to increase the area under conservation. “Reserves need adequate funding and support to protect wildlife, and need to be more than just lines on a map,” noted Dr. Barnes.

Added Dr. Craigie, “There are still a number of protected areas where wildlife populations are declining, and these need urgent support, especially in developing nations, if they are to successfully preserve their biodiversity in perpetuity.”

IUCN taskforce chair Stephen Woodley underscored that “enhancing protected area management quality is essential.”


Wildlife population trends in protected areas predicted by national socio-economic metrics and body size’ by Megan D. Barnes, Ian D. Craigie, Luke B. Harrison, Jonas Geldmann, Ben Collen, Sarah Whitmee, Andrew Balmford, Neil D. Burgess, Thomas Brooks, Marc Hockings and Stephen Woodley appears in the 16 September 2016 issue of the journal Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12747

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