project news

Warning: Ecosystems Out of Service

News item submitted by Flora O'Brien
News item dated 26 Oct 2010

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From food to firewood, medicines to pollinators, the human race is dependent on the natural world. Yet according to the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2010, published earlier this week, many of these “ecosystem services” are in danger of disappearing if mankind continues to overexploit and consume them. Since the 1960’s, our consumption of natural resources has doubled, predominantly as a result of expanding industries (such as agriculture, transport, fisheries) driven by an ever-growing human population. The report states that our “Ecological Footprint”, that is the quantity of land and water required used by humans, is presently 50% larger than the Earth can sustain. If the current trend continues, it is predicted that by 2030 we will require double the capacity of two entire Earths to counterbalance our consumption of natural resources and ecosystem services! Without these ecosystem services, both biodiversity and humans alike will suffer.

Countries most vulnerable to this biodiversity loss are those in the tropics, particularly developing countries with unstable economies. It is in these countries that local communities depend the most on natural resources in order to survive. In Costa Rica, for instance, the presence of forest pollinators can boost coffee yields by up to 20% which consequently increases the farmers’ income. Expanding agriculture and deforestation threaten these pollinator populations, which in turn may threaten the farmers’ livelihoods. Organisations, such as Frontier, which operate in poor tropical countries, are therefore well-placed to help prevent the loss of ecosystem services and consequent decline in biodiversity through immediate action.

The WWF propose that the creation of protected areas may save ecosystem services from being lost. Protected areas promote the conservation of wildlife, and can take several forms. One of Frontier’s major achievements on the Tanzania Marine project has been the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) around Mafia Island, based on data collected by Frontier, which aims at safeguarding the fisheries and maintaining the sustainability of fish stocks. In terrestrial areas, our researchers in Tanzania Savannah have recently been studying the use of wildlife corridors, another strategy identified in the Living Planet Report as a way of protecting ecosystem services by connecting fragmented forest habitats. Such work is invaluable in saving ecosystems from becoming unserviceable.

A view of Mafia Island.

Find out more about our Tanzania Marine and Savannah projects.