Scientists around the world worked together in an essential biodiversity study to gauge the impact human activities have on the ability of natural systems and wildlife to survive. Their study, “Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical protected areas,” published by the journal Nature, looked at more than 30 different categories of species within protected tropical areas across the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

Scientists, who found that many of the protected areas are struggling to sustain their biodiversity, estimated how species groups have changed in numbers over the past few decades while identifying environmental changes that might threaten the nature reserves, such as rapid deforestation in tropical nations. The team found many reserves acted like mirrors — partially reflecting the threats and changes in their surrounding landscapes.

Associate Professor Sarah Karpanty and her students have studied wildlife in and around Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park since 1998. She contributed a review of her research to the report, with particular attention to the state of the wildlife she studies, the threats to both the wildlife and the park, and how changes outside the park impact wildlife inside the park’s boundaries.

“This is a uniquely comprehensive, up-to-date, and honest assessment about the role of protected areas in saving biodiversity in the tropics,” Karpanty said. “The large project was a collaborative effort by scientists from around the world to contribute their data and insight to the question of whether nature and wildlife parks can save the world’s biodiversity.”

Scientists found that while most reserves were helping to protect their forests, about half of the reserves were struggling to sustain their original biodiversity, including old-growth trees, large predators, primates, stream- dwelling fish and amphibians, and other wildlife. The reserves suffering the most were those that were poorly protected and suffered encroachment from illegal colonists, hunters, and loggers.

“The take-home point,” Karpanty emphasized, “should not be viewed in a negative light, in terms of thinking that hope is lost for biodiversity in the tropics. We need to be as aggressive in eliminating threats outside of park boundaries as we are in establishing new parks or maintaining existing ones. In many ways, the findings are common sense. However, sometimes ‘we,’ meaning society, need a wake-up call about the obvious.”