4 April 2024

In biodiversity protection, choosing the right areas halves the costs


This is supported by an Australian study: in protecting biodiversity it is better to target smaller but more at-risk areas. The goal is to achieve greater convenience and better results

by Matteo Cavallito


The protection of biodiversity comes through the protection of small but strategic plots. A choice capable of producing better results globally. This is supported by research from the University of Queensland, Australia. The study, conducted by the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the same university, highlighted in particular how this type of approach proves cost-effective. To the point of halving the costs associated with preventing habitat loss.

Targeting areas at risk

“Currently, governments and NGOs mostly focus on geographic percentage-based biodiversity protection targets – for example, protecting 30 per cent of a country by 2030,” Pablo Negret, researcher and co-author of the study, explained in a statement. “But, to get to that 30 per cent, governments will often just protect areas where it is easier and cheaper to do so.”

Policymakers, in other words, tend in short to typically expand protection in the least threatened areas.

Here, they note, the average costs of protection are lower but the return on investment is also lower. In areas subject to significant hazards, such as deforestation for example, committing to protecting biodiversity, on the other hand, is more expensive but also more profitable. “Each high-risk square kilometre generally costs more to protect,” Negret says, “but as fewer of them are needed, the same conservation outcomes in terms of future habitat retained in the landscape can be achieved for less money.”

The Study

To prove this thesis, the researchers analyzed the distribution of forest bird habitat in Colombia and the hypothetical impact on it of two different strategies: expanding protection in areas at high risk of deforestation and that conducted in low-risk areas. Looking at 550 bird species and making an estimate to 2050, the research says, the authors found that through the model targeted at the riskiest areas, an average of 7.2 percent more habitat per species is conserved when compared with the scheme focused on the lowest-risk areas.

This approach, the study continues, “cost more per km2 of land conserved, but it was more cost-effective in retaining habitat in the landscape (50%–69% lower cost per km2 of avoided deforestation.” To achieve the same result, action conducted in low-risk areas “would require more than twice as much protected area, costing three times more in the process.”

The link between climate and biodiversity

The study brings with it a new contribution to the scientific literature on the protection of biodiversity. This is an essential strategy in today’s framework characterized by the progressive loss of species diversity at the plant level and beyond. This phenomenon is considered particularly alarming. Some researchers, in fact, have ideally placed it side by side with the issue of climate emergency by speaking of “twin crises.”

Significant, moreover, is precisely the link between the two phenomena. Last year, for example, a study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala showed how the soil carbon stock of global grasslands decreases as plant biodiversity declines. An event that occurs more in warmer and drier areas. According to the researchers, species-poor vegetation would decompose faster in the soil, thus generating more emissions.