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What works for threatened species recovery? An empirical evaluation for Australia

Taylor, M.F.J., Sattler, P.S., Evans, M., Fuller, R.A., Watson, J.E.M. & Possingham, H.P. 2011. What works for threatened species recovery? An empirical evaluation for Australia. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20, 767-777.

Despite the growing numbers of threatened species and high levels of spending on their recovery worldwide, there is surprisingly little evidence about which conservation approaches are effective in arresting or reversing threatened species declines. Using two government data sets, we examined associations between population trends for 841 nationally-threatened terrestrial species in Australia, and four measures of conservation effort: (a) how much their distribution overlaps with strictly protected areas (IUCN I–IV), (b) and other protected areas (IUCN V–VI), (c) the number of recovery activities directed at the species, and (d) numbers of natural resource conservation activities applied in areas where populations of the threatened species occur. We found that all populations of 606 (72%) species were in decline. Species with greater distributional overlap with strictly protected areas had proportionately more populations that were increasing or stable. This effect was robust to geographic range size, data quality differences and extent of protection. Measures other than strictly protected areas showed no positive associations with stable or increasing trends. Indeed, species from regions with more natural resource conservation activities were found to be more likely to be declining, consistent with differential targeting of such generalised conservation activities to highly disturbed landscapes. Major differences in trends were also found among the different jurisdictions in which species predominantly occurred, which may be related to different legislative protections against habitat destruction. Although we were not able to test causation, this research corroborates other evidence that protected areas contribute to the stabilization or recovery of threatened species, and provides little empirical support for other conservation approaches.

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