The dangers of carbon-centric conservation for biodiversity

REDD (reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) has become the focus of many conservation efforts and is eating up lots of conservation money.  While REDD sounds good on paper, has many serious problems, most of which have been discussed at length elsewhere (e.g., HERE, HERE, HERE).  In collaboration with Alvaro Duque and colleagues, we have just published a new study highlighting one underappreciated problem with REDD and other carbon centric conservation schemes.  Basically, by adding value to high-biomass areas (such as lowland tropical forests, deforestation and degradation may be pushed to lower-biomass areas such as highland forests (i.e., leakage).  As we show in our analyses these low-biomass forests often contain high amounts of diversity and super high amounts of endemic diversity.  Importantly a lot of the diversity in these low-biomass forests is in life forms other than trees (e.g., fern, herbs, lianas, epiphytes…).  So even in schemes such as REDD+ where biodiversity is taken into consideration, low biomass forests may still be at risk since measures of biodiversity are usually based only on trees or other large charismatic species. The end result is that while carbon-centric approaches to conservation can potentially promote the protection of some habitats and thereby reduce net carbon emissions, they can potentially have the perverse effect of promoting deforestation in other habitats and thereby actually increase overall species extinction rates. The abstract of our paper, entitled “The dangers of carbon-centric conservation for biodiversity: a case study in the Andes,” is reproduced below and the original article is available through the journal Tropical Conservation Science HERE.


The dangers of carbon-centric conservation for biodiversity: a case study in the Andes
Alvaro Duque, Kenneth J. Feeley, Edersson Cabrera, Ricardo Callejas and Alvaro Idarraga

Carbon-centric conservation strategies such as the United Nation’s program to Reduce CO2 Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), are expected to simultaneously reduce net global CO2 emissions and mitigate species extinctions in regions with high endemism and diversity, such as the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. Using data from the northern Andes, we show, however, that carbon-focused conservation strategies may potentially lead to increased risks of species extinctions if there is displacement (i.e., “leakage”) of land-use changes from forests with large aboveground biomass stocks but relatively poor species richness and low levels of endemism, to forests with lower biomass stocks but higher species richness and endemism, as are found in the Andean highlands (especially low-biomass non-tree growth forms such as herbs and epiphytes that are often overlooked in biological inventories). We conclude that despite the considerable potential benefits of REDD+ and other carbon-centric conservation strategies, there is still a need to develop mechanisms to safeguard against possible negative effects on biodiversity in situations where carbon stocks do not covary positively with species diversity and endemism.

Antioquia Colombia