Protecting biodiversity and economic returns in resource‐rich tropical forests

In pursuit of socioeconomic development, many countries are expanding oil and mineral extraction into tropical forests. These activities seed access to remote, biologically rich areas, thereby endangering global biodiversity. Here we demonstrate that conservation solutions that effectively balance the protection of biodiversity and economic revenues are possible in biologically valuable regions. Using spatial data on oil profits and predicted species and ecosystem extents, we optimise the protection of 741 terrestrial species and 20 ecosystems of the Ecuadorian Amazon, across a range of opportunity costs (i.e. sacrifices of extractive profit). For such an optimisation, giving up 5% of a year’s oil profits (US$ 221 million) allows for a protected area network that retains of an average of 65% of the extent of each species/ecosystem. This performance far exceeds that of the network produced by simple land area optimisation which requires a sacrifice of approximately 40% of annual oil profits (US$ 1.7 billion), and uses only marginally less land, to achieve equivalent levels of ecological protection. Applying spatial statistics to remotely sensed, historic deforestation data, we further focus the optimisation to areas most threatened by imminent forest loss. We identify Emergency Conservation Targets: areas that are essential to a cost‐effective conservation reserve network and at imminent risk of destruction, thus requiring urgent and effective protection. Governments should employ the methods presented here when considering extractive led development options, to responsibly manage the associated ecological‐economic trade‐offs and protect natural capital.

Ball (2020) Conservation Biology