The rapid disruption of tropical forests probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other contemporary phenomenon. With deforestation advancing quickly, protected areas are increasingly becoming final refuges for threatened species and natural ecosystem processes.
However, many protected areas in the tropics are themselves vulnerable to human encroachment and other environmental stresses. As pressures mount, it is vital to know whether existing reserves can sustain their biodiversity.
A critical constraint in addressing this question has been that data describing a broad array of biodiversity groups have been unavailable for a sufficiently large and representative sample of reserves.
Here we present a uniquely comprehensive data set on changes over the past 20 to 30 years in 31 functional groups of species and 21 potential drivers of environmental change, for 60 protected areas stratified across the world’s major tropical regions.
Our analysis reveals great variation in reserve ‘health’: about half of all reserves have been effective or performed passably, but the rest are experiencing an erosion of biodiversity that is often alarmingly widespread taxonomically and functionally. Habitat disruption, hunting and forest-product exploitation were the strongest predictors of declining reserve health. Crucially, environmental changes immediately outside reserves seemed nearly as important as those inside in determining their ecological fate, with changes inside reserves strongly mirroring those occurring around them.
These findings suggest that tropical protected areas are often intimately linked ecologically to their surrounding habitats, and that a failure to stem broad-scale loss and degradation of such habitats could sharply increase the likelihood of serious biodiversity declines.
William F. Laurance, D. Carolina Useche, Julio Rendeiro, Margareta Kalka, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Sean P. Sloan1, Susan G. Laurance1, Mason Campbell1, Kate Abernethy, Patricia Alvarez, Victor Arroyo-Rodriguez, Peter Ashton, Julieta Benı´tez-Malvido, Allard Blom, Kadiri S. Bobo, Charles H. Cannon, Min Cao, Richard Carroll, Colin Chapman, Rosamond Coates, Marina Cords, Finn Danielsen, Bart De Dijn, Eric Dinerstein, Maureen A. Donnelly, David Edwards, Felicity Edwards, Nina Farwig, Peter Fashing, Pierre-Michel Forget, Mercedes Foster, George Gale, David Harris, Rhett Harrison, John Hart, Sarah Karpanty, W. John Kress, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Willis Logsdon, Jon Lovett, William Magnusson, Fiona Maisels, Andrew R. Marshall, Deedra McClearn, Divya Mudappa, Martin R. Nielsen, Richard Pearson, Nigel Pitman, Jan van der Ploeg, Andrew Plumptre, John Poulsen, Mauricio Quesada, Hugo Rainey, Douglas Robinson, Christiane Roetgers Francesco Rovero, Frederick Scatena, Christian Schulze, Douglas Sheil, Thomas Struhsaker, John Terborgh, Duncan Thomas, Robert Timm, J. Nicolas Urbina-Cardona, Karthikeyan Vasudevan, S. Joseph Wright, Juan Carlos Arias-G., Luzmila Arroyo, Mark Ashton, Philippe Auzel, Dennis Babaasa, Fred Babweteera, Patrick Baker, Olaf Banki, Margot Bass, Inogwabini Bila-Isia, Stephen Blake, Warren Brockelman, Nicholas Brokaw, Carsten A. Bru¨ hl, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, Jung-Tai Chao, Jerome Chave, Ravi Chellam, Connie J. Clark, Jose´ Clavijo, Robert Congdon, Richard Corlett, H. S. Dattaraja, Chittaranjan Dave, Glyn Davies, Beatriz de Mello Beisiegel, Rosa de Nazare´ Paes da Silva, Anthony Di Fiore, Arvin Diesmos, Rodolfo Dirzo, Diane Doran-Sheehy, Mitchell Eaton, Louise Emmons, Alejandro Estrada, Corneille Ewango, Linda Fedigan, François Feer, Barbara Fruth, Jacalyn Giacalone Willis, Uromi Goodale, Steven Goodman, Juan C. Guix, Paul Guthiga, William Haber, Keith Hamer, Ilka Herbinger, Jane Hill, Zhongliang Huang, I Fang Sun, Kalan Ickes, Akira Itoh, Nata´ lia Ivanauskas, Betsy Jackes, John Janovec, Daniel Janzen,Mo Jiangming, Chen Jin, Trevor Jones, Hermes Justiniano, Elisabeth Kalko, Aventino Kasangaki, Timothy Killeen, Hen-biau King, Erik Klop, Cheryl Knott, Inza Kone´, Enoka Kudavidanage, Jose´ Lahoz da Silva Ribeiro, John Lattke, Richard Laval, Robert Lawton, Miguel Leal, Mark Leighton, Miguel Lentino, Cristiane Leonel, Jeremy Lindsell, Lee Ling-Ling, K. Eduard Linsenmair, Elizabeth Losos, Ariel Lugo, JeremiahLwanga, Andrew L. Mack, Marlucia Martins, W. Scott McGraw, Roan McNab, Luciano Montag, Jo Myers Thompson, Jacob Nabe-Nielsen, Michiko Nakagawa, Sanjay Nepal, Marilyn Norconk, Vojtech Novotny, Sean O’Donnell, Muse Opiang, Paul Ouboter, Kenneth Parker, N. Parthasarathy, Ka´tia Pisciotta, Dewi Prawiradilaga, Catherine Pringle, Subaraj Rajathurai, Ulrich Reichard, Gay Reinartz, Katherine Renton, Glen Reynolds, Vernon Reynolds, Erin Riley, Mark-Oliver Ro¨del, Jessica Rothman, Philip Round, Shoko Sakai, Tania Sanaiotti, Tommaso Savini, Gertrud Schaab, John Seidensticker, Alhaji Siaka, Miles R. Silman, Thomas B. Smith, Samuel Soares de Almeida, Navjot Sodhi, Craig Stanford, Kristine Stewart, Emma Stoke, Kathryn E. Stoner, Raman Sukumar, Martin Surbeck, Mathias Tobler, Teja Tscharntke, Andrea Turkalo, Govindaswamy Umapathy, Merlijn van Weerd, Jorge Vega Rivera, Meena Venkataraman, Linda Venn, Carlos Verea, Carolina Volkmer de Castilho, Matthias Waltert, Benjamin Wang, David Watts, William Weber, Paige West, David Whitacre, Ken Whitney, David Wilkie, Stephen Williams, Debra D. Wright, Patricia Wright, Lu Xiankai, Pralad Yonzonand Franky Zamzani.