Cutting research station funding will hurt conservation efforts, scientists say

KOTA KINABALU: Reduced funding for field conservation research stations worldwide is causing concern among researchers and scientists.

This means they have less means to find solutions to critical environmental and conservation issues, protect threatened species and identify core conservation problems.

Danau Girang Field Centre director Prof Dr Benoit Goossens and NGO Hutan scientific director Dr Marc Ancrenaz said field research stations are a cost-effective and multifaceted tool to addressing global conservation challenges.

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Goosens said field stations are not just places where esoteric research is conducted, as is often the perception.

“Almost invariably, you find higher densities of wildlife in the vicinity of these field stations than in other parts of a particular region, even within protected areas,” he said.

Ancrenaz said the presence of the two organisations in lots Two and Six of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area under the jurisdiction of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), contribute to the protection of the areas and their adjacent lots of the sanctuary.

He said these field stations act as the “eyes and ears” of SWD while the scientific data collected is incorporated into national biodiversity policies and contributes to the management and conservation of wildlife populations.

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Goossens and Ancrenaz are co-authors of a paper published in the scientific journal Conservation Letters.

The paper finds that funding of field conservation research stations worldwide has been drastically reduced since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting more than 170 conservation researchers representing 157 field stations in 56 countries.

The authors contend that these stations have a high return on investment and are essential and effective tools for biodiversity conservation.

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For the study, a survey was conducted focusing on field stations in mostly tropical and subtropical countries to understand the impact of the pandemic on funding and evaluate the stations' conservation benefits.

The findings show that overall, their benefits include improved habitat quality in surrounding areas by reducing nearby deforestation, reducing hunting rates and improving enforcement of laws on wildlife use and resource extraction.

Additionally, 93% of field stations hire locals, supporting the local economy, in addition to generating significant scientific output for conservation policies.

The authors urge greater recognition and investment in field research stations and pointed out that while trillions have been spent for post Covid-19 economic recovery worldwide, little is done for biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

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The paper's lead author Dr Timothy Eppley, chief conservation officer of Wildlife Madagascar, said a fundamental challenge is that governments and other funding agencies are not factoring in the true return on investment.

They do not realise the critical economic role of ecosystem services being protected by those field stations, he said.

“Field stations often function autonomously, with few studies exploring the aggregate impact of their work. Cumulatively, they make a substantial contribution to conservation,” he said.

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