Unique Project Will Assess Population Impact

August 21, 1996

Unique Project will Assess Population Impact As Factor in Decling Biodiversity

Contact: Ellen Cooper, 202-236-6431

Problem Highlighted in New Report of Case Studies

WASHINGTON, DC (August 18, 1996)--In national parks and other ecologically treasured sites around the world, plant and animal life is under severe threat from the activities of rising numbers of people. Now, in one of the first international research efforts of its kind, scientists will analyze the impacts of these human population pressures to provide information that is crucially needed to devise effective strategies for biodiversity conservation.

The three-year "International Research Cooperation Project," sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), will coordinate and help finance research at several sites around the world where increased human population pressures are jeopardizing the unique flora and fauna. A newly published AAAS book, Human Population, Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Science and Policy Issues, examines the phenomenon through case studies from six countries -- Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and the United States.

According to Victoria Dompka, director of the AAAS Project on Population and Sustainable Development, researchers will focus on a variety of human population factors -- such as migration, tourism, and high levels of resource consumption -- and measure how they affect levels of biodiversity. Reliable scientific information about such impacts is needed, she explained, because this environmental issue has not been fully explored. "Policymakers and resource managers require good scientific evidence to analyze and address problems related to human population impacts on iodiversity preservation," Dompka said. "Unfortunately, there's very little understanding beyond an intuitive or anecdotal level."

Because the relationship between human population and the environment is complex, Dompka added, scientists must look at population's effects on the biodiversity of actual sites to observe the true impacts. The findings, while local in focus, will be broadly applicable to many other sites around the world.

The studies will be multidisciplinary, involving researchers with expertise in both the natural and social sciences, Dompka emphasized. "This is not just an issue of ecology or demographics," she said. "It's cross-cutting, and must be addressed from a variety of different perspectives."

The research effort will get underway this summer, when an advisory group of scientists and partner institutions in the project meets to select the researchers and frame the research questions. The results of the studies will be published and disseminated worldwide. Funding for the project comes from a $200,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The project is an outgrowth of a meeting held at AAAS last year to identify scientific research priorities related to population and biodiversity protection. The participants, from 14 countries, included experts ranging from Wolfgang Lutz of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Jeffrey McNeely of the World Conservation Union, and Dr. Fred Sai of Ghana, chair of the main committee of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, to park managers and representatives of village-based nongovernmental organizations.

The case studies provide a "micro-perspective" of issues relevant to many national parks and other protected sites around the world. For example:
  • At Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park, soaring population in the bordering town --doubling in just ten years -- is contributing to waste treatment and land erosion problems that threaten the lake's quality and wildlife, which includes large populations of flamingos and other bird species.
  • In India, one of 12 "megadiversity" countries in the world, a major environmental pressure on the 620-square-mile Great Himalayan National Park is the hordes of people who crowd the park from May to November to collect valuable herbs and medicinal plants.
  • In the biologically unique and still relatively pristine Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, human introduction of non-native species, increasing tourism, and growing foreign demand for fish products are putting intense stress on the ecosystem, eroding the marine life and jeopardizing the livelihood of local fishermen.
  • The U.S. case study shows problems of recreational, urban, and agricultural development caused by a large influx of people moving to southern Florida, and the impact this growth has had on the hydrological system that supports the vast South Florida ecosystem and Everglades National Park.
The book's contributors stress that protected areas are part of the larger human landscape and the needs of people in surrounding communities must be taken into account if conservation strategies are to succeed. "We need to demonstrate that protected areas are not set aside as isolated areas without human interaction," write McNeely and co-author Dr. Gayl Ness.

In his preface to the AAAS book, Dr. Sai notes that the U.N.'s International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in September 1994, virtually ignored the subject of human population impacts on the environment because of "the lack of much good quality scientific evidence" in this field, which hampers effective analysis and efforts to forge solutions. He said the meeting was a critical initial step to addressing the population and biodiversity as inter-related parts of human-environment interaction.
NOTE: Review copies of the book are available by calling 202-326-6431 or by sending an e-mail message to: ecooper@aaas.org.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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