Recent research has found a large conservation gap in protecting endemic seed plants in the Central Himalaya

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The success in biodiversity conservation cannot be measured simply by evaluating how much land area has been set aside for conservation but by assessing if these areas are truly representative of the extant biodiversity. For example, although Nepal’s PA coverage (23.63% land area) is much larger than the Aichi biodiversity target, the recent research has found a large conservation gap in protecting endemic seed plants in Nepal. The study identified several complementary areas of endemic seed plants diversity in western Nepal as well as the mid-hills and lowlands of central and eastern Nepal that are still unprotected. The study was published in Biological Conservation (IF = 5.99), a leading conservation journal. This is the first research of its kind in Nepal and the findings have important conservation implications. Experts in this research team include Dr. Nawal Shrestha of Lanzhou University, China and Society for Conservation Biology Nepal, Dr. Achyut Tiwari of Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University, Nepal and Dr. Prakash Kumar Paudel of Society for Conservation Biology Nepal and Center for Conservation Biology, Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences.

Districts and physiographic regions of Nepal and the percentage of protected areas (PA) coverage in each physiographic region.

In this study, the authors built one of the most comprehensive distribution datasets for the entire endemic seed plants (316 species) in the central Himalaya (Nepal) at a much finer spatial resolution (10 × 10 km2) to bridge the existing knowledge gap on the status of plant protection. Using this dataset and the largest time-calibrated phylogeny of global seed plants, they identified key areas for the systematic protection of species and evolutionary diversity of endemic seed plants in Nepal. Their assessment identified a total of 47 grid cells as priority sites for conserving overall species and evolutionary diversity of endemic seed plants. Interestingly, more than half of these priority grid cells (26 grid cells) were outside the existing protected area network, which shows a weak protection status of endemic seed plants in Nepal. Furthermore, they found that the mean range size of species in unprotected grid cells was significantly lower (F (1, 342) = 30.99; p < 0.001) than that of the species in protected grid cells.

Sites of complementary (a) species richness, (b) weighted endemism, (c) phylogenetic diversity and (d) phylogenetic endemism of endemic seed plants in Nepal identified by complementarity algorithm.

 

While flagship species undoubtedly demand special conservation attention, their findings suggest the need to reconsider the conservation priority of non-charismatic species and assess their protection status too, as many of these species are crucial to ecosystem health and are at greater risk of extinction. In order to provide better representation of biodiversity in the PA network in Nepal, the study recommends expanding protected areas to the mid-hills of central and eastern Nepal as well as the lowlands of eastern Nepal. Although these areas are species-poor, they harbor some of the evolutionarily unique plant species with restricted distributions. Therefore, failure to protect these regions may result in the loss of unique species assemblages.

Priority areas for systematic conservation of species and evolutionary diversity of endemic seed plants in Nepal and the gaps in conservation. Sites within and outside the protected area networks are shown in blue and red color, respectively.

Unlike the commonly used hotspot approach, which puts more emphasis to species-rich areas, the priority areas identified in this study are not only species diversity hotspots but also species diversity coldspots. While preserving hotspots would undoubtedly protect a large fraction of biodiversity, the biodiversity coldspots may be ecologically and evolutionarily important areas offering important ecosystem services and/or sheltering unique evolutionary lineages. Therefore, such areas should not be overlooked in conservation planning. Although Nepal’s PA coverage is much higher than the Aichi biodiversity target, the existing PA network in Nepal is far from being ecologically representative. This study reinforces that simply increasing the land area for protection is less meaningful to overall biodiversity conservation. Therefore, instead of focusing on increasing the percentage coverage, countries should first evaluate if the prioritized areas are truly representative of the extant biodiversity. The findings of the present study have clear conservation implications for protecting endemic seed plants in Nepal and may be used as a baseline data to identify important plant areas in Nepal. This might also be useful in selecting representative areas for expanding PA networks in Nepal to meet the post-2020 global biodiversity target.

Full text of the article is available here:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320721003268


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