Protected areas on Madagascar do make a difference

The forests of Madagascar are at risk but protected areas are now shown to be effective.

Tropical forest is being lost at unprecedented rates. This has important implications for biodiversity and climate change mitigation. Protected areas are one of the main tools to avert habitat loss and deforestation, but they are not always effective at stopping threats.

The endemic-rich island of Madagascar has been one of the regions experiencing the highest rates of forest loss. There have been reports of illegal logging in several national parks. Research carried out in the University of Helsinki shows that Madagascar's protected areas are overall effective at reducing deforestation pressure within their borders.

The protected area effectiveness differed between different forest types and under different time periods. This highlights the dynamic nature of protected area effectiveness, which depends not only on the established management of the protected units, but also on the changing deforestation pressures outside.

“Our recently published study highlights the alarming trend of what happens once enough forest has been lost in easily accessible areas and the pressures starts to spread to the more remote areas where protected areas usually have been established,” says the lead author Dr. Johanna Eklund from the Metapopulation Research Centre, University of Helsinki.

There is a need for addressing the drivers of deforestation in a holistic way, incorporating both economic and sociopolitical concerns. But the research team is excited to show some good news for conservation: “Continued effort and support to the already existing protected area network is important. It proved effective despite high deforestation pressures. However, some considerable deforestation is still occurring inside some protected areas and there is room to improve their management," Johanna Eklund concludes.

Eklund, J., Blanchet, G., Nyman, J., Rocha, R., Virtanen, T., and Cabeza, M.  2016. Contrasting spatial and temporal trends of protected area effectiveness in mitigating deforestation in Madagascar. Biological Conservation.

The research was carried out at the University of Helsinki, benefitting from the super computer clusters of the CSC – IT Center for Science, and the long term experience of the research group regarding conservation issues in Madagascar. This allowed for defining a policy relevant research question and to develop a new methodology capable of handling fine resolution geographical data on land cover and its change for the analyses.

More information
Dr. Johanna Eklund
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