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In some parts of the world, land-based bird populations are becoming confined to nature reserves, raising the risk of global extinction.

The report published in Conservation Letters was led by a team of researchers from UCL Life Sciences with the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences and Newcastle University School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, who analysed biodiversity in the area known as Sundaland, which covers the peninsula of Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, one of the world’s most biologically degraded regions.

The study funded by the Leverhulme Trust focused on galliformes, heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds, such as pheasants, grouse and quail which are amongst some of the most threatened species in some parts of the world.

The team found that up to 13 populations or 25% of galliformes in the area, have been made extinct locally, or extirpated in the region and no longer exist outside protected areas within nature reserves. The island of Sumatra has suffered the highest proportion of extirpations among the areas studied, having lost half of its galliforme species in unprotected land.

The study raises questions about the ultimate goal of conservation and the researchers argue that these areas were never intended to be a last resort for the existence of species and are also coming under increasing threat from human activity.

Professor Elizabeth Boakes from UCL Life Sciences, said, “Land outside of protected areas is increasingly being lost to agriculture and infrastructure, leading to species becoming confined to Sundaland's protected areas. Biodiversity in the unprotected landscape is required to maintain connectivity and ecosystem function.

"It is also critical that protected areas are managed effectively. However, nearly 20 per cent of Malaysia's and over 40 per cent of Indonesia's protected land is subject to intense human pressure.

"As one of the most biologically degraded areas, Sundaland offers a stark warning to the rest of the world should global rates of land conversion continue unabated. Conservation's end goal is not islands of biodiversity, marooned in a sea of destruction. More land must be managed in a way that accommodates biodiversity for the long term."

Sundaland is rich in biodiversity but is at risk of destruction with forest cover in Sumatra declining by 5% between 1990 and 200, while Kalimantan’s protected lowland forests declined by more than 55% between 1985 and 2001.

Protected areas are no necessarily permanent with downgrading over the last few years equating to a loss of 8360 km2 of protected land. As they become more isolated in agricultural landscapes or by the spread of roads and other infrastructure, species lose the opportunity to adapt to climate change. For example, just 12% of Borneo’s protected areas are topographically diverse enough to allow species to survive with a high global warming scenario.

Dr Philip McGowan, from the Newcastle University School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission Task Force on post 2020 biodiversity targets said, "These findings present new insights into how we should view protected areas and their ability to conserve species across landscapes.

"At a time when there is debate about how much land should be given over to protected areas, it is how they are integrated into global biodiversity targets that is perhaps critical. These targets are currently being reviewed by the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is also discussing what should follow them when they expire in 2020."

Southeast Asia’s deforestation rate is the highest among tropical regions, above 5% annually in parts of Sumatra and Sarawak. Sundaland’s lowland forests are rapidly disappearing, giving us an insight into the future global conservation status of the remainder of the world if land outside of protected areas continues to be lost, putting the reserves at increased risk from climate change and human activity.

Southeast Asia's deforestation rate is the highest among tropical regions, above five per cent annually in parts of Sumatra and Sarawak. Sundaland's lowland forests are rapidly disappearing, giving us an insight into the future global conservation status of the remainder of the world if land outside of protected areas continues to be lost, putting the reserves at increased risk from climate change and human activity.


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