A decade ago, a small but energetic team of scientists asked how they could act to prevent bird extinctions in the Americas. We recently published the complete story of the long-term approach to that problem, and the resulting successful conservation actions, in the journal Natureza & Conservação.
Beginning with a progressive series of GIS analyses, we first narrowed our focus to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, then to the state of Rio de Janeiro within the Atlantic Forest, and ultimately to a small, isolated lowland forest fragment of a few thousand hectares. Our conclusion was that this fragment had the highest concentration of endangered birds in the Americas while representing less than 0.0001% of its area. The figure below summarizes our findings, showing the richness of threatened birds draped over the topography of the state of Rio de Janeiro. One fragment stands out among all the rest, and that red fragment in the east of the map, having more endangered birds than anywhere else, is União Biological Reserve. We determined that restoration of a corridor to that fragment should be the single greatest priority for preventing bird extinctions in the entire Americas. Incidentally, re-connecting the fragment was also a priority shared by our colleagues who worked locally on the flagship golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), a candidate to be the mascot for 2016 Olympics.
The corridor, known as Fazenda Dourada, is now part of the União Biological Reserve, reconnecting the once isolated forest fragment to nearby forested mountains. Today, the trees are growing back in the corridor, demonstrating the success of a specific research and conservation agenda, one that is long-term, based on quantitative science, and guided by local conservation actors.
Solving this conservation problem involved extensive time on the ground, not to do biological research, but to meet and talk with people. We met with the managers of the União reserve, local scientists, landowners, Brazilian and international conservation groups, but most importantly, we met with individual people. To all of them, we presented the story of why this place was so important and why a corridor would be critical to long-term protection of species.
After years of spreading the message, success came about because a small number of individuals and organizations committed to make it happen. Fundamental to that success was that we had a clear and compelling case for action, a story easily understood by non-scientists (i.e., the people generally paying for conservation). Importantly, we had the GIS maps to communicate the message to people ranging from children to scientists to government officials. Anyone can understand a good map, but most people cannot understand a scientific paper. This is crucial, because the vast majority of people involved in conservation are not scientists.
Jenkins, C.N., S.L. Pimm, M.A.S. Alves. 2011. How Conservation GIS Leads to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Natureza & Conservação 9: 152-159.doi:10.4322/natcon.2011.021.
SavingSpecies update about 2011 field visit to the corridor site
Associação Mico-Leão Dourado – AMLD (Golden Lion Tamarin Association)