Biodiversity in tropical forest protected areas may be faring better than previously thought, according to a study released Jan. 19, 2016 in the scientific journal PLOS Biology.

The study, "Standardized Assessment of Biodiversity Trends in Tropical Forest Protected Areas: The End is Not in Sight," was based on data gathered by researchers with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), a coalition established in 2007 that includes Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Lead author of the PLOS Biology paper is University of Michigan ecologist and conservation biologist Lydia Beaudrot.

TEAM researchers monitored 244 species of ground-dwelling mammals and birds in 15 protected areas spanning tropical regions in Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. They analyzed more than 2.5 million pictures captured by more than 1,000 camera traps and found that 17 percent of the animal populations they monitor increased in number while 22 percent remained constant and 22 percent decreased.

The results of this study verify the effectiveness of protected areas. Overall, the number and distribution of species in these areas did not decline during the timeframe of the study—strongly suggesting that biodiversity did not decline overall, despite other reports of intense species decline in tropical forest protected areas.

"Our results suggest that tropical forest protected areas are supporting stable communities of ground-dwelling mammals and birds, which is good news for conservation," said Beaudrot, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows. "This is a surprising result because previous studies based on expert opinion have suggested that many tropical forest protected areas are failing."

Before joining the U-M faculty in September 2015, Beaudrot worked nearly two years for TEAM, where she analyzed and synthesized data from the camera-trap project.

Hope for Tropical Biodiversity After All, PLOS Biology synopsis 

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