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Conservation Efforts Are Biased

New study shows that conservation research is not focusing on the countries that need it the most, i.e. those with the highest biodiversity

Source: the journal PLOS Biology

Cajas National Park in Ecuador, the most biodiverse country in the world
Cajas National Park in Ecuador, the most biodiverse country in the world

Biodiversity, a term referring to the variety of living organisms inhabiting a specific place, has been linked to improved ecosystem health, water quality and even diseases resistance. Preserving the high biological diversity of habitats around the world is a priority for conservationists, but a new study shows that scientists are not focusing their biodiversity research on the countries in the largest need of conservation. 

The study, led by researchers from University of Queensland in Australia analyzed more than 10 000 scientific publications concentrating on biodiversity published in 1 061 journals and found that the top five most biologically diverse countries – Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea –  were the focus of only 1.6 percent of the articles. 

Similar results were seen when the scientists broke down the data in terms of different types of biodiversity, For example, the top five most important countries for mammalian conservation –  Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Mexico and Australia – were the subject of 11.9 percent of the reviewed papers. The researchers estimate that, based on their importance, these five countries should actually be the target of approximately 37.2 percent of scientific publications on the subject. 

Sumatran tiger in Indonesia, the world's most biodiverse country in terms of mamalian life
Sumatran tiger in Indonesia, the world's most biodiverse country in terms of mamalian life
Dupan Pandu/Flickr

The most important nations to biodiversity were not only covered by a disproportionately small number of publications, but also only 11.7 percent of them were freely accessible, a factor that greatly impacts how widely shared that research can become. 

Another even more worrying statistic is the fact that a very small number of the research that actually focuses on the five countries most biodiverse countries on the globe was led by an institution based there. A little over 20 percent of the publications concerning Ecuador were conducted by Ecuadorian organizations, less than 15 percent for those focusing on Costa Rica and Panama, and zero for the research on the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea. 

In comparison, the country receiving the most attention in biodiversity conservation research, nearly 18 percent of the studied publications, is the United States; however, based on its value to conservation efforts, it should have been covered by only 0.5 percent of the research. The percentage of the scientific studies focusing on it that were led by a U.S. institution is 93.

The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, the second most biologically diverse country in the world
The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, the second most biologically diverse country in the world

In search of the source for this mismatch in biodiversity conservation need and efforts, the scientists found that there is no correlation between a country's GDP and the number of publications concentrating it; however, there is a positive correlation between the percentage of GDP spent on research and the number of studies focusing on the nation in question.

This is why they are advising greater in-country investment in research in countries with the greatest value to biodiversity conservation to mitigate the issue. That way the money spend and the research itself will have the highest return on investment in terms of biodiversity conservation.

Squirrel monkey near in Ecuador, the most biologically diverse country in the world, 20 November 2014
Squirrel monkey near in Ecuador, the most biologically diverse country in the world, 20 November 2014
Carline06/Flickr

Adelina is an editor at Eatglobe's news bureau and our resident food-obsessed millennia.

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