Conservation Fast Facts

Tropical biodiversity: a superabundance

  • A single hectare (100 metres X 100 metres) in the tropical rain forest of Brazil yielded 450 species of tree. [1] (Versus 180 species of trees in all of Canada.) [2]
  • The tropics are home to "biodiversity hotspots" in which 44% of vascular plant species and 35% of vertebrates are found in less than 1.5% of the earth's land. [3]
  • A single rainforest reserve in Peru is home to more species of birds than are found in the entire United States. [4]
  • The number of species of fish in the Amazon exceeds the number found in the entire Atlantic Ocean. [4]
  • One single tree in Peru was found to harbor 43 different species of ant. [4]

Ecosystem services: the economic value of nature

  • Tropical forests provide a host of ecosystem services, including protecting watersheds from erosion and evaporation, nutrient cycling and providing habitat for species critical for pollination of crops. [5]
  • Forests produce clouds and rainfall through evapotranspiration, a process essential for agriculture. [6] The Amazon rainforest, for example, is responsible for rainfall on an intercontinental scale. [7]
  • A famous study published in Nature in 1997 estimated the value of ecosystem services worldwide at $33 trillion per year; higher than world GDP at $27 trillion (both figures in 1994 dollars). [8]
  • Over 75% of the world's drinking water comes from forested areas. [9]
  • Existing forests and their soils absorb one quarter of all carbon emissions. [9]
  • More than 20 percent of all oxygen in the atmosphere is produced in the Amazon Rainforest. [9]
  • Deforestation contributes 15-17% of total carbon emissions - more than all the world's ships, cars, trains and planes. [9] Avoiding deforestation is a cost effective means to lower carbon emissions. [9]
  • One study found that protected forests in Brazil provided ecosystem services worth 50% more than agriculture would have in the same areas. [9]
  • If land use conversion continues at the same rate as in the last 60 years, the cost of lost ecosystem services will amount to US$2 trillion to 4.5 trillion per year. [10] The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells; 70% are found in rainforests. [10]

Loss of biodiverity & natural ecosystems: where and why

Causes of deforestation [11]

  • agricultural expansion
  • infrastructure expansion - roads, human settlements etc.
  • wood extraction for fuel, construction material, etc.

Habitat loss

  • Over 6 million hectares of primary (old growth) forest are lost each year around the world - an area larger than Nova Scotia. [12]
  • Forests once covered more than 40% of the earth's land surface. This has been reduced by over 1/3, with most loss occurring since the 1950's. [12]
  • One and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second. [13]

Illegal bush meat and trade in threatened species
Overhunting is the second most important cause of extinctions in the tropics, next to habitat loss. [14] Several large mammal species in Africa, e.g. the Black Rhinoceros, face complete extinction due to poaching. [15]

Invasive species

  • Since the 17th Century, alien species have contributed directly to nearly 40% of all animal extinctions. [16]
  • The combined economic losses due to introduced invasive species for six countries (US, UK, South Africa, India, Brazil and Australia) is estimated at $316 billion per year. [17]

Frogs faring poorly
1,910 of the planet's 6,312 amphibian species are in danger of extinction, making them the most threatened group known to date. [17]

Marine ecosystems under seige

  • Oceans cover 70% of our planet, and host a vast diversity of habitats that are home to 32 of the world's 34 phyla. [18]
  • Coral reefs provide food, storm protection, tourism and other benefits, yet 70% of coral reefs are threatened or destroyed.xii [18]
  • 35% of mangroves (nurseries to marine life) have been lost in just 20 years.xii [18]
  • Over 70% of the world's fish stocks are either fully exploited or depleted. [19]

What's going right

  • Costa Rica has reduced its deforestation rate to zero, and one study found that local economies have benefited from the establishment of more protected areas. [20]
  • In the last ten years Brazil has given protected status to 500,000 km2 of Amazon rainforest. [20]
  • Across the world there are now numerous local conservation organizations as well as international ones actively conserving nature. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there are 280. [21]
  • Protection of watersheds through ecosystem service payments is growing rapidly &mdash around the world at least 288 programs existed in 2008, up from just 51 in 2000. [22]
  • At least 72 payment systems for biodiversity conservation, such as biodiversity banks' and offset programs, exist around the world, with a market value of USD 2.4-4.0 billion per year at minimum. [23]
  • Voluntary carbon markets are growing globally; conservation of forests for their carbon value made up the largest share of these markets in 2010. [24]
  • A century ago only a minute amount of land was held in nature or hunting reserves; By 2008, there were over 120,000 protected areas covering 21 million km2 of land and sea, an area more than twice the size of Canada. [25]
  • Globally, the net rate of conversion of some ecosystems has begun to slow, and in some regions ecosystems are returning to more natural states. [26]

Money and conservation

  • With an annual investment of US$45 billion in protected areas we could protect natural services worth some US$5 trillion: an extremely good benefit-cost ratio of 100:1. [27]
  • An effective global system of nature reserves would cost about 2% of the annual expenditure on environmentally harmful subsidies. [28]
  • A comprehensive global conservation program that incorporated biodiversity into all major natural resource sectors could be launched for about 20% of the cost of these subsidies. [28]
  annual amount $US billions Year Ref.
Value of ecosystem services $33,000 1994 [28]
Amount needed for comprehensive global conservation $300 1996 [28]
Amount needed for conservation of an ecologially represenative global network of protected areas $27 1996 [28]
Amount needed for proper management of existing reserves $8 1996 [28]
Amount being spent on reserves $6 1996 [28]
Shortfall in conservation funding (Developed world) one-third 2000 [29],[30]
Shortfall in conservation funding (Developed world) one-twentieth    
Compared With      
World GDP $26,842 1994 [31]
World GDP $69,994 2011 [31]
Worldwide military spending $1,630 2010 [32]
Environmentally harmful goverment subsidies, world total $1,000 1998 [32]
Worldwide lottery ticket sales $262 2011 [33]
Agricultural subsidies $55 2010 [34]
Agricultural subsidies for corn alone $8 2000 [35]

i Figures are in current dollars (i.e. current to respective year), rather than constant dollars.

ii Expenditure on terrestrial reserves as a proportion of estimated requirement for an effective network (covering 15% of land area).

The Bottom Line

Conservation, especially in the tropics, is the greatest bargain and wisest investment for the future. Every conservation gain now makes a difference and will result in more of the world's hugely valuable natural heritage surviving for future generations.


  1. Thomas, W.W. and A. M. Carvalho. 1993. Estudo fitossociologico de Serra Grande, Uru uca, Bahia, Brasil. XLIV CongressoNacional de Bot nica. 24-30 January 1993. Resumos Vol. 1:224. Cited in Voeks, R.A. 1996. Tropical forest healers and habitat preference. Economic Botany, 50, 381-400.
  2. Natural Resources Canada. The Atlas of Canada: Tree Species by Ecoregion. Accessed 08/12. [link]
  3. Myers, N, R.A. Mittermeler, C.G. Mittermeler, G.A.B. da Fonseca & J. Kent. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403, 853-858. Can be found at: [link]
  4. Richards, P. W. 1996. The Tropical Rain Forest, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.
  5. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Ecosystem Services Factsheet. Accessed 08/12 [link]
  6. Portela, R. and I. Rademacher. 2001. A dynamic model of patterns of deforestation and their affect on the ability of the Brazilian Amazonia to provide ecosystem services. Ecological Modelling, 143, 115-146.
  7. The Economist. 2010. Seeing the wood: A special report on forests. Septemer 25, 2010; 16 pages.
  8. Costanza, R., R. d'Arge, R. de Groot, S. Farber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R. V. O'Neill, J. Paruelo, R. G. Raskin, P. Sutton, and M. van den Belt. 1997. The value of the world's ecosystems services and natural capital. Nature 387:253-260.
  9. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Forest Factsheet. Accessed 08/12. [link]
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  12. IUCN. 2011. Why is biodiversity in crisis? Accessed 08/12. [link]
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  14. Bodmer, R.E., J.F. Eisenberg, and K.H. Redford. 1997. Hunting and the likelihood of extinction of Amazonian mammals. Conservation Biology 11:460-466.
  15. Hillman, K., and E. Martin. 1979. Will poaching exterminate Kenya's Rhinos? Oryx 15:131-132.
  16. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Invasive Alien Species Factsheet. Accessed 08/12. [link]
  17. Pimentel, D., S. McNair, J. Janecka, J. Wightman, C. Simmonds, C. O'Connell, E. Wong, L. Russel, J. Zern, T. Aquino, and T. Tsomondo. 2001. Economic and environmental threats of alien plant, animal and microbe invasions. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 84, 1-20.
  18. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Invasive Alien Species Factsheet. Accessed 08/12. [link]
  19. Oliver, P. and R. Metzner; UNFAO. 2005. World inventory of fisheries: Impacts of fishery activities. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department Online. Accessed 08/12. [link]
  20. Andam, K.S., P.J. Ferraro, K.R. Sims, A. Healy and M.B. Holland. 2010. Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 9996-10007.
  21. Scholfield, K., and D. Brockington. 2008. Non-governmental organisations and Aftican wildlife conservation: a preliminary analysis. University of Manchester and Newcastle University report available online at [link]
  22. Stanton, Tracy; Echavarria, Marta; Hamilton, Katherine; and Ott, Caroline. 2010. State of Watershed Payments: An Emerging Marketplace. Ecosystem Marketplace. [link] Accessed 10/12.
  23. Madsen, Becca, Nathaniel Carroll, Daniel Kandy, and Genevieve Bennett, 2011 Update: State of Biodiversity Markets. Washington, DC: Forest Trends, 2011. [link] Accessed 10/12.
  24. Peters-Stanley, M., K. Hamilton, T. Marcello, and M. Sjardin. 2011. Back to the Future: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2011. A Report by Ecosystem Marketplace & Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Accessed 10/12. State of voluntary carbon agreements: [link]
  25. Biodiversity Indicators Partnership. Coverage of Protected Areas: [link]
  26. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.
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  29. Balmford, A., K. J. Gaston, S. Blyth, A. James, and V. Kapos. 2003. Global variation in terrestrial conservation costs, conservation benefits, and unmet conservation needs. Proceedings of the National Academny of Sciences USA 100(3):1046-1050.
  30. Balmford, A., and T. Whitten. 2003. Who should pay for tropical conservation, and how could the costs be met? Oryx, 37(2): 238-250.
  31. World Bank, using figures from World Development Indicators & Global Development Finance.
  32. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2011. Recent trends in military expenditure. Military Spending and Armament. Accessed 08/12. [link]
  33. Scientific Games Corporation (a NASDAQ listed public company) [link] Accessed 10/12
  34. EUR-Lex (Access to European Law). 2010. 2010 General budget: Agriculture and rural development. Posted March 17, 2010. [link]
  35. Environmental Working Group (EWG). Farm Subsidies. Accessed 09/12. [link]

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