Under Siege

War zones and biodiversity hotspots overlap

Not even conservation areas are safe from war. Eighty percent of the 146 armed conflicts occurring between 1950 and 2000 took place within the world’s biodiversity hotspots, according to a study in Conservation Biology.

To reach this conclusion, researchers cross-referenced the locations of conflicts incurring more than 1,000 casualties with Conservation International’s list of 34 biodiversity hotspots. Only 11 of these regions escaped warfare over the five-decade period. This trend is worrisome, the researchers say, because war’s environmental costs can be nearly as high as its human toll. During war, conservation activities are usually suspended and protected areas often abandoned by staff. What’s more, refugees often turn to poaching, which can decimate wildlife populations, and timber harvests have been used to fund military operations. To avert these dangers, the authors call on the conservation community to maintain direct involvement in war zones and to recommend that biodiversity protection become a goal of war-related humanitarian and reconstruction programs. ❧

—Jessica Leber

Hanson, T. et al. 2009. Warfare in biodiversity hotspots. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01166.x

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