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How Can We Best Preserve Biological Diversity and Protect Endangered Ecosystems?

The extinction of plant and animal species is not only decreasing Earth’s biodiversity and depriving humans of potential resources for food, medicine, and simple enjoyment of nature; it is endangering the functioning of ecosystems and potentially precipitating a cascading effect of increased ecosystem loss and further erosion of biodiversity (Kinzig et al., 2001; Loreau et al., 2001, 2002). Ecosystems are critical to human welfare. They sequester carbon, produce oxygen, generate chemical energy from sunlight, and are integral to soil formation, nutrient cycling, food production, wood and fiber production, the regulation of water flow, and the transference of water to the atmosphere. Ecosystems have always been in flux, but as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) makes clear:

Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth. (MEA, 2005:1)

Human activity is the likely cause of the extinction or disappearance of close to 850 species over the past 500 years (Baillie et al., 2004). The rates of plant and animal extinction today are conservatively estimated to be 100 times to more than 1,000 times greater than past average extinction rates calculated from fossil lineages (MEA, 2005). The causes of past and present extinctions include a number of human-driven factors such as habitat and ecosystem destruction and fragmentation, overexploitation of species through hunting and fishing, competition and predation by invasive species, and pollution (MacDonald, 2002; MEA, 2005; Loreau et al., 2006; Worm et al., 2006). At the global scale, the biosphere can be grouped into geographical regions called biomes in which climatic conditions and vegetation structure are internally similar, but differentiable from other biomes. The majority of some biomes, such as the temperate forests or Mediterranean woodlands and shrublands, have already been converted to cultural landscapes (Figure 2.1).

Today, tropical forest systems and wetlands are being hit particularly hard by habitat destruction and fragmentation (e.g., DeFries et al., 2005). On top of this, rates of extinction could increase catastrophically as species find themselves unable to adjust geographical ranges quickly enough in response to climate change. In an analysis of the impacts of a moderate climate warming scenario on more than 1,000 plant and animal species in Mexico, Australia, South America, and Africa, Thomas et al. (2004) concluded that between 15 percent and 37 percent of these species would be committed to extinction by 2050. Malcolm et al. (2006) estimated that up to 43 percent of species in some biodiversity hotspots may face extinction owing to changing climate and vegetation distributions caused by global warming.1

1

Widespread concerns about the rate and impact of biodiversity and ecosystem loss has generated important international programs of research such as the DIVERSITAS initiative supported by governments in Asia, the Americas, and Europe.



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2 How Can We Best Preserve Biological Diversity and Protect Endangered Ecosystems? T he extinction of plant and animal species is not through hunting and fishing, competition and preda- only decreasing Earth’s biodiversity and depriv- tion by invasive species, and pollution (MacDonald, ing humans of potential resources for food, 2002; MEA, 2005; Loreau et al., 2006; Worm et medicine, and simple enjoyment of nature; it is endan- al., 2006). At the global scale, the biosphere can be gering the functioning of ecosystems and potentially grouped into geographical regions called biomes in precipitating a cascading effect of increased ecosystem which climatic conditions and vegetation structure loss and further erosion of biodiversity (Kinzig et al., are internally similar, but differentiable from other 2001; Loreau et al., 2001, 2002). Ecosystems are criti- biomes. The majority of some biomes, such as the cal to human welfare. They sequester carbon, produce temperate forests or Mediterranean woodlands and oxygen, generate chemical energy from sunlight, and shrublands, have already been converted to cultural are integral to soil formation, nutrient cycling, food landscapes (Figure 2.1). production, wood and fiber production, the regula- Today, tropical forest systems and wetlands are tion of water flow, and the transference of water to being hit particularly hard by habitat destruction and the atmosphere. Ecosystems have always been in flux, fragmentation (e.g., DeFries et al., 2005). On top of but as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) this, rates of extinction could increase catastrophically makes clear: as species find themselves unable to adjust geographical ranges quickly enough in response to climate change. Over the past 50 years, humans have changed In an analysis of the impacts of a moderate climate ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in warming scenario on more than 1,000 plant and ani- any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, mal species in Mexico, Australia, South America, and fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted Africa, Thomas et al. (2004) concluded that between in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the 15 percent and 37 percent of these species would diversity of life on Earth. (MEA, 2005:1) be committed to extinction by 2050. Malcolm et al. Human activity is the likely cause of the extinc- (2006) estimated that up to 43 percent of species in tion or disappearance of close to 850 species over some biodiversity hotspots may face extinction owing the past 500 years (Baillie et al., 2004). The rates of to changing climate and vegetation distributions caused plant and animal extinction today are conservatively by global warming.1 estimated to be 100 times to more than 1,000 times greater than past average extinction rates calculated from fossil lineages (MEA, 2005). The causes of past 1Widespread concerns about the rate and impact of biodiversity and present extinctions include a number of human- and ecosystem loss has generated important international programs driven factors such as habitat and ecosystem destruc- of research such as the DIVERSITAS initiative supported by gov- tion and fragmentation, overexploitation of species ernments in Asia, the Americas, and Europe. 

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 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET FIGURE 2.1 Past and projected conversions of major biomes to cultural landscapes and loss of original ecosystems. SOURCE: MEA (2005). role oF The geograPhical scieNces (Figure 2.2). The role that location and geographical context play on biodiversity and ecosystem loss makes The geographical distribution of biodiversity, threats the geographical sciences integral to understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem loss, and regions where this issue. conservation efforts should focus are not evenly distrib- Through field studies, remote sensing, and ecologi- uted, but display distinct spatial patterning at all scales, cal modeling, the geographical sciences document and from local to global (Brooks et al., 2006; Kremen et explain biodiversity distribution and contribute to its al., 2008). Species richness decreases from the equator preservation through strategies aimed at optimizing poleward (Figure 2.2). Within this general pattern, cer- conservation (Church et al., 2003). Scientists are still tain geographical areas have notably high numbers of seeking to determine how many species of plants and species, many found nowhere else in the world. These animals the planet supports. The lack of information is areas of high endemic species richness are referred to particularly notable in marine and freshwater systems, as biodiversity hotspots and are often regions prone which have received less attention than their terrestrial to significant ongoing ecosystem alteration and loss counterparts (Richardson and Poloczanska, 2008).

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 BIODIVERSITY FIGURE 2.2 Map of Earth with the locations of major biodiversity hotspots in red (Myers et al., 2000), the latitudinal biodiversity gradients for mammals, amphibians, and threatened bird species (MEA, 2005), and cities with populations greater than 1 million (UN, 2009). SOURCE: Adapted from Myers et al. (2000); MEA (2005); and UN (2009). Used with permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C. Geographical scientists have demonstrated that both metrics of land-use change in Maryland from 1973 to biophysical and sociocultural dimensions are central to 2000 to document the spread of urban development the causes and consequences of land-cover and land- and the resulting fragmentation of habitat (Figure 2.3). use change, and they have advanced understanding of They drew three conclusions. First, contrary to earlier how human circumstances (e.g., social marginalization) work on national patterns, urban growth is an ongo- and associated processes (e.g., policy changes) affect ing phenomenon and is being underestimated in other biodiversity or ecosystem loss. This has resulted in the studies because of insufficient attention to increasing development of the emerging interdisciplinary field of low-density exurban development. Second, the increas- land change science (LCS), the goal of which is to de- ing growth is often peripheral and low density and is velop integrated explanations of land change (Turner et leading to increased habitat fragmentation and loss. al., 2007). The Global Land Project of the International Third, the environmentally sensitive Chesapeake Bay Geosphere-Biosphere Programme represents an inter- region is actually experiencing increased development national effort to understand the interacting drivers, because of its commercial and recreational amenity patterns, and impacts of such changes. value. The movement of people to economically and An exposition of the aims of LCS and insights environmentally attractive urban areas causes habitat into the role of the geographical sciences is provided loss and fragmentation, but much remains to be done by a recent special feature on the topic in P roceedings to assess the precise impacts of these demographic of the National Academy of Sciences (Turner et al., 2007). shifts on ecosystems and biodiversity. It follows that In one study particularly representative of the spatial an important question for the geographical sciences, and integrative nature of the geographical sciences, environmental sciences, sociology, economics, and Irwin and Bockstael (2007) use geographical pattern environmental ethics is how to manage the growing

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 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET FIGURE 2.3 Land use in Maryland in 2000. Note the fragmentation of forested and agricultural land on the outskirts of the Baltimore­ Washington metropolitan area, which Irwin and Bockstael show from longitudinal data has been ongoing since the 1970s. Also, the increasing concentration of urban development along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay reflects an influx of development because of the commercial and recreational amenities of the ecologically sensitive waterway. Urban growth is in this case affecting both terrestrial and estuarine ecosystems. SOURCE: Irwin and Bockstael (2007). pressures for urban development in a manner that bal- spatial distributions of many of the known species ances demands and biodiversity/ecosystem protection remain poorly articulated. The geographical sciences (see also Chapter 4). Understanding the geographical can help address this lacuna through the integration patterns and rates of such changes in land use through of biological censuses with measurements of physical use of the geographical sciences can help elucidate the environmental variables. Field-based measurements trade-offs involved. can be obtained through traditional ecological census methods and physical geography approaches, but it is impossible to cover the expanse of the biosphere, research suBQuesTioNs particularly in remote and difficult-to-access tropical regions. Hence, estimating species distributions and how is biodiversity distributed and controlled? biodiversity requires integrating the results of field re- The number of species that comprise the biodiver- search with remote sensing data, and using geographic sity of the planet is unknown, with estimates ranging information systems (GIS) to overlay and extrapolate between 5 million and 30 million. Of this number, biological and environmental variables (e.g., Cohen and only about 2 million have been scientifically described Goward, 2004; Gillespie et al., 2004, 2008; Goetz et (Groombridge and Jenkins, 2002; MEA, 2005). The al., 2007; Figure 2.4).

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5 BIODIVERSITY FIGURE 2.4 Results of a maximum entropy model provide an example of how remote sensing data on landscape/vegetation and climatic data can be combined to improve understanding of fine­scale features that influence the spatial distribution of species, in this case Carpornis melanocephala (black­headed berryeater) in Brazil. Higher values indicate optimal conditions for the species, whereas lower values indicate poor conditions. Geographically explicit and integrated studies of field observations, remotely sensed land­cover data, and other environmental data to estimate species distributions are an important application of the geographical sciences. SOURCE: Gillespie et al. (2008). Geographical science approaches also contribute Understanding and preserving the genetic diversity of to the development of models that estimate potential species, which often demonstrates spatial patterning, biodiversity and aid in the development of conserva- are important components of the conservation applica- tion strategies on the basis of measured environmental tions of the geographical sciences in the future. parameters, human land-use patterns, species physiology, and species behavior. Coupled field and remote sensing What are the spatiotemporal patterns and drivers of modeling is being developed to estimate biodiversity developed ecosystem and habitat loss? over wide geographical areas. These approaches show much promise for documenting current conditions and The rates of global ecosystem loss and habitat establishing conservation strategies (Figure 2.5). fragmentation and the relationship of those processes Understanding the geographical and environ- to biodiversity loss are important topics of continued mental distribution of genetic diversity within species research for the geographical sciences. It can be dif- is necessary to anticipating how changes in population ficult even to compare fragmentation measures from genetic structure could influence ecosystem function- one country to another because of differences in data ing, extinction risk, and biodiversity (Reusch et al., availability and the metrics used (Kupfer, 2006). Some 2005). As environmental changes affect a species, of the most important insights into the magnitude, rate, certain genotypes may be advantaged, and the genetic and spatial distribution of habitat loss have come from the geographical sciences. A recent study of Amazonian diversity of the species may change over time. Losses in deforestation in Brazil by Morton et al. (2006) provides genetic diversity can also occur through stochastic pro- an informative example (Figure 2.6). Between 2001 cesses when species populations are isolated or become and 2004 more than 3.6 million hectares of Ama- very small. The loss of genetic diversity may hamper zonian forest were cleared for intensive agriculture. a species’ ability to exist in certain environmental set- Morton and colleagues used a time series of MODIS tings because the genetically controlled traits required (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) for survival in those environments have been lost.

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6 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET FIGURE 2.5 (A) Predicted tree species diversity and (B) suggested areas of conservation priority for the state of Chiapas, Mexico, based on combination and modeling of vegetation data, environmental data, human population and land­use data, and remote sens­ ing imagery. Even in a highly fragmented and mountainous landscape, this research demonstrates the usefulness of integrated and spatially explicit approaches to documenting biodiversity and developing conservation strategies. SOURCE: Cayuela et al. (2006). FIGURE 2.6 Clearance of Amazonian forest for pasture and cropland development in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, between 2001 and 2004 as detected from satellite imagery. Areas that were cleared for grazing were typically twice the size of patches cleared for crops. SOURCE: Morton et al. (2006).

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 BIODIVERSITY satellite imagery to show significant deforestation processes need to assert a relationship between the re- caused by the clearing of more than 540,000 hectares motely sensed data and underlying social processes only for the development of both cropland and grazing land when an externally validated link between the remotely in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. They found that the sensed data phenomenon and the social process has destruction of forest land was not random. The satel- been established. Thus further research on where and lite imagery showed that it occurred along the leading when to establish such links is needed. edges of previously cleared land. The study concluded Second, and linked to the first challenge, data from that agricultural intensification and the development of most remote sensing datasets, such as Landsat satellite permanent croplands and rangelands was accelerating imagery, are typically too coarse to provide effective rates of deforestation, and these rates might be expected measures of the small-scale or diffuse land-use and to increase if crop prices rise in the future. land-cover processes under examination. Fortunately, in Habitat loss can further isolate current protected recent years the availability of data that have finer spa- areas and make the conservation of species and eco- tial resolution has increased, and the cost has decreased. systems within such protected areas difficult. Morton Geographical scientists are thus in a good position to et al. (2006) used 20 years of satellite data to assess test and improve, where possible, the explanatory power changes in habitat around 198 of the world’s largest of recent research on land-use and land-cover change tropical forest conservation areas. They found that using increasingly finer resolution data. about half of the protected areas had experienced sig- how will future climate change influence species’ nificant natural habitat loss (i.e., 5 percent or greater) distributions and biodiversity? over the past 20 years. In some cases the loss of natural Information on climatic controls on geographical habitat in the surrounding buffer areas was as high as distribution and potential rates of species migration 80 percent. The increasing isolation of these protected are critical to anticipating the impacts of future climate areas makes them less effective as conservation areas for change on species. The climate and ecosystems of maintaining species diversity. There is great potential some present biodiversity hotspots may be so altered to expand the scope of such studies to many different in the future as to make them unsuitable to support world regions and timescales. their current endemic species. Data are still too sparse, Although the biophysical sciences and remote however, to predict confidently the impacts of climate sensing can do much to aid in biodiversity and eco- change on future potential distributions and migration system conservation, understanding the underlying socioeconomic patterns and forces that drive particular rates of most threatened species (Araújo et al., 2005; land-use patterns and ecosystem losses requires close Pimm, 2007). Developing effective conservation poli- interaction between biophysical and social scientists. cies depends on being able to predict where species will Gap analysis, which uses GIS to overlay threatened be able to exist under a changed climate and how fast species distributions, their habitat types, human land they might be able to migrate to new regions as the use, and the status of legal protection for lands can be climate changes. GIS-based collations and analyses of extremely useful for determining geographically based species distributional data and current and projected conservation strategies and land acquisition priorities to environmental conditions can be particularly important preserve biodiversity in an increasingly fragmented envi- in linking field observations, climate forecasts, and ronment (e.g., Davis et al., 2004; Gleason et al., 2006). ecological models of species distributions and potential Two challenges for integrating sociocultural mea- migration rates in a spatially explicit manner to help sures of land-use and land-cover change deserve par- with this task (e.g., Guisan et al., 2006). In terms of ticular attention in the coming decade. First, remote potential migration rates, the geographical sciences sensing data do not provide direct measures of socio- can contribute through both empirical studies based cultural variables such as income, political preference, on observations of past and present organism dispersal and education, only indirect, or proxy, measures. This patterns (e.g., Clark et al., 1998; Greene et al., 2004) limitation of remotely sensed data means that scientists and through mathematical simulations of dispersal attempting to explain land-surface or coastal ecosystem (e.g., Malanson, 2003).

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 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET One example of a geographical approach to this or communities may be relatively resilient and which problem—and a sobering view of the possible magni- may be more sensitive to future land-surface and cli- tude of climate change impacts—comes from a study mate change based upon their response to past episodes by Malcolm et al. (2006). They examined 14 differ- of environmental change. ent computer models that produce estimates of the Paleostudies entail reconstructing long histo- climatic changes likely to be caused by a doubling of ries of ecosystems to indicate their response to past CO2. They averaged the climatic estimates produced e nvironmental changes and the degree to which by those models and used the averaged estimates of they have been altered by human activity in order to c limate as input for two different models that predict provide benchmarks or targets for ecosystem restora- biome distributions on the basis of climatic condi- tion. An example of such a study comes from the tions. They then used these results to predict the work of Millspaugh et al. (2000) based on analysis possible future shifts of major biodiversity hotspots of a sediment core from Cygnet Lake in Yellowstone based on the predicted shifts in climate and vegeta- National Park (Figure 2.7). Through the analysis of tion. They then considered potential migration rates fossil charcoal and pollen Millspaugh et al. (2000) of the biota in the current hotspots relative to where showed that there was a positive relationship between suitable habitat for those species would be found fire frequency and increased temperatures and aridity. in the future. They concluded that the extinction The hot and dry conditions were natural variations rates resulting from geographical shifts in current in climate caused by increased summer insolation hotspots would be regionally variable, ranging from related to changes in the orbital geometry of Earth. less than 1 percent to 43 percent, with an average These results suggest that increased fire frequency is loss of 11.6 percent of the species. They found that a reasonable expectation with future climate warm- the most vulnerable hotspots were the South African ing, but that there is a high degree of adaptation and C ape Floristic Region, Caribbean, Indo-Burma, resilience to varying fire frequencies in the vegeta- M editerranean Basin, Southwest Australia, and tion of Yellowstone. Both observations are important Tropical Andes (see Figure 2.1). In these areas, plant for the management of the Park’s ecosystems in the extinctions could exceed 2,000 species. A particularly face of climate change. More basic biogeographical troubling conclusion from this study was that if these research on species distributions, environmental rela- climate-driven changes occurred within the projected tions, and dispersal capabilities, coupled with model time frame of 100 years, the rate of tropical extinc- development, can improve assessments of the impacts tions caused by global warming could well exceed the of climate change on biodiversity and endangered already high rates of extinction from deforestation and ecosystems. land-surface change. Observational records of plant and animal popula- how can we conserve biodiversity and ecosystems tions and ecosystems are usually too short in duration while sustaining human livelihoods? to detect and interpret long-term trajectories or the Devising conservation strategies requires grap- response of biological systems to long-term envi- pling with the complexity in indigenous as well as ronmental change. Extending the temporal depth of increasingly globalized land-use practices and differing environmental analysis along with the spatial coverage cultural approaches to nature valuation, conservation is a central concern of the geographical sciences. Such practices, and compliance (e.g., Messina et al., 2006; paleoecological and paleoclimatic studies can provide Robbins et al., 2006; Walsh et al., 2008). The role of empirical data on the response of species in terms of socioeconomic factors in habitat ecosystem modifica- geographical distribution, population size, migration tion and biodiversity is often complex and at times rates, and extinction by looking at the fossil records of counterintuitive. Geographical scientists working at species and community reactions to past episodes of cli- the interface of conservation ecology and the social matic warming over the Quaternary Period and earlier sciences have shown, for example, that some human (Botkin et al., 2007; Willis et al., 2007; MacDonald et land-use patterns, such as certain forms of swidden al., 2008a). Such research can point out which species

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 BIODIVERSITY FIGURE 2.7 The history of regional vegetation and fire frequency in Yellowstone National Park over the past 17,000 years based on fossil pollen and charcoal. Since 11,000 years ago the vegetation has remained relatively stable despite significant long­term changes in fire frequency driven by climate change related to changes in July insolation related to changes in Earth’s orbital geometry. SOURCE: Millspaugh et al. (2000). agriculture,2 may support local human populations and situ biodiversity conservation.3 Although the concept also serve to mimic natural disturbance regimes and of the modern park, or “Yellowstone model,” dates to thus help preserve biodiversity (Robbins et al., 2006; the late 19th century, the related notion of a hunting see also Chapter 5). preserve took form across the tropics during the colo- The geographical sciences have contributed to nial era (Cronon, 1996). These preserves endured over current debates about the premises behind widely used time, eventually becoming national parks that gained conservation strategies such as the best approach for ex considerable international support following the rise of an environmental movement in high-income countries during the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1980s, how- 2Swidden agriculture is the practice of clearing relatively small ever, it was becoming clear that the park model was fail- patches of forest through cutting and burning and then cultivat- ing in many tropical countries. In most cases there was ing crops for a short period—typically 3 to 5 years—until soil nutrients decrease. The plot is then withdrawn from cultivation and secondary forest succession is allowed to occur. After several 3 Ex situ biodiversity conservation is the maintenance of fallow years during which soil nutrients are restored, the forest on the patch is again cleared and the land cultivated. The practice endangered species at areas outside their natural ranges or habitats. produces a landscape with a diverse spatial pattern of cultivated Examples include the preservation of an animal species population fields and patches of forest of various ages, structure, and species in a zoo or wild animal conservation areas or the preservation of a composition. plant species population in a botanical garden.

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0 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET a strong conviction that local people were destructive and pointing out that it was still devastating for local agents who should not live within the borders of parks livelihoods (Wilshusen et al., 2002). These studies (Cronon, 1996). This notion led to the removal of local highlight a growing body of work in the geographical peoples and the near or complete destruction of their sciences that underscores the importance of incorpo- livelihoods, in the process straining relations between rating local perspectives and ideas in the development park authorities and local residents (e.g., Peluso, 1993; of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation strategies Guha, 1997). (Stevens, 2002; Kates et al., 2005). The failure of the park model led to a dynamic Confronting these issues from an integrated natural round of experimentation with community-based and social sciences perspective is a major challenge that natural resources management (CBNRM) starting in calls upon the integrative perspective and analytical the late 1980s. Here the core idea was that the govern- tools of the geographical sciences (e.g., Turner et al., ment needed to give local people a stake in the success 1995; Liverman et al., 1998; Lambin et al., 1999; Fox or failure of a park. The theory was that if local people et al., 2002; Walsh and Crews-Meyer, 2002). These in- profited from ecotourism, they would actively support tegrated approaches are in the early stages of being for- efforts to conserve wildlife within and around the mally incorporated into LCS (Turner et al., 2005, 2007) borders of a park. Associated with this flurry of experi- and should be examined for inclusion in the specific mentation was scholarship championing this approach context of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. (e.g., Metcalf, 1994) as quite positive whereas others, most notably Neumann (1997, 2002), saw CBNRM— summarY and related approaches such as buffer zones—as just Lessons learned by geographical scientists in the past another disguised extension of a park model that ultimately constrained the livelihoods of local people. two decades from attempts to model the process of Still others saw the way in which CBNRM was imple- land-use and land-cover change, and to project future mented by governments as the major problem (e.g., distributions of land use and land cover, suggest that Logan and Moseley, 2002). socially sensitive and integrated research approaches By the late 1990s, there was a group of conser- within the geographical sciences could greatly assist vation biologists—most notably Terborgh (1999, in the development and implementation of viable 2000)—arguing that CBNRM had completely failed conservation strategies (e.g., Pontius et al., 2007). The to conserve biodiversity and that there should be a ability of the geographical sciences to combine field return to a stricter and more robust form of the park studies, remote sensing data, climate data, and land- model, sometimes referred to as fortress conservation. change models to understand ecosystem changes and Subsequent scholarship critiqued the reemerging for- biodiversity distribution will be critical to developing tress conservation model, questioning whether it really land-use policies and conservation strategies in the served to conserve biodiversity (Robbins et al., 2006) coming decade.