UBC study highlights benefits of broad conservation efforts

Broad conservation needed

A new study suggests that when it comes to the conservation of endangered species, focusing on conserving a collection of species is more effective than trying to save a single one.

Habitat loss across the globe is threatening the extinction of a number of species, but many animal advocates and wildlife professionals rely on the 'canary in the coal mine' concept, which monitors and focuses only on a single species to try to maintain a healthy biodiversity.

However, new research from UBCO suggests that habitats have a better chance of being maintained if conservation efforts are focused on a collection of species instead of a single 'canary.'

“Efforts around the world are going into countering a decline in biodiversity,” says Adam Ford, study author and Canada research chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at UBC Okanagan. “While we would love to be able to protect all habitats for all species, organizations tend to focus their efforts on a few species and not everyone shares the same priorities.” 

This leads to the implementation of the canary in the coal mine, also known as the idea of surrogate species. 

“The problem with surrogate species is that people rarely agree on which species that should be,” says Ford. “There is a tendency to favour charismatic species like grizzly bears and wolves, over lesser-known but equally-important species. These preferences are deeply rooted in cultural norms.”

To address this imbalance, Ford and his team began researching on how to protect groups of species together, presenting a more objective sample of habitats that require protection.

The research included a dataset of more than 1,000 species and 64 of the province's habitats. The team compared the surrogacy value of each of the species, determining a numerical score. This was based off of the comparison of two species through the usage of their shared habitats.

Following this, the group found a mix of five to 10 game and non-game species which offered the best results as candidates for biodiversity conservation.

Ford also points out that the mixture of these "all star" species groups can bring together different teams of people ranging from bird-watchers, hikers and hunters who all share an interest in protecting their species of interest for the benefit of all.

“Perhaps we should not be focusing on figuring out which species is the best conservation surrogate, but which groups of species bring the most people together to protect the most biodiversity,” he says.

The study was published recently in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

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