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Benefits of conservation efforts may not yet be fully visible - Newcastle University

The time it takes for species to respond to conservation measures – known as an ‘ecological time lag’ – could be partly masking any real progress that is being made, experts have warned.

Global conservation targets to reverse declines in biodiversity and halt species extinctions are not being met, despite decades of conservation action.

Last year, a UN report on global biodiversity warned one million species are at risk of extinction within decades, putting the world’s natural life-support systems in jeopardy.

The report also revealed we were on track to miss almost all the 2020 nature targets that had been agreed a decade earlier by the global Convention on Biological Diversity.

But work published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution offers new hope that in some cases, conservation measures may not necessarily be failing, it is just too early to see the progress that is being made.

Led by Forest Research together with the University of Stirling, Natural England, and Newcastle University, the study authors highlight the need for ‘smarter’ biodiversity targets which account for ecological time-lags to help us better distinguish between cases where conservation interventions are on track to achieve success but need more time for the conservation benefits to be realised, and those where current conservation actions are simply insufficient or inappropriate.

Improving the way we evaluate 'success'

Lead researcher Dr Kevin Watts of Forest Research said: “We don’t have time to wait and see which conservation measures are working and which ones will fail. But the picture is complicated and we fear that some conservation actions that will ultimately be successful may be negatively reviewed, reduced or even abandoned simply due to the unappreciated delay between actions and species’ response.

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