Defining conservation priorities in tropical and biodiversity rich countries

Friday, 25 November 2016

Malayan tapir with baby

A lecturer in Human Geography at Oxford Brookes is part of a study making the case for conservation initiatives to be prioritised in Malaysia.

Rich in biodiversity, with a rapidly growing economy, Malaysia exemplifies the tension between conservation and economic development faced by many tropical countries.

While recent initiatives have attempted to address conservation priorities at global and national scales, most of these focus on developed countries in temperate regions. There is a need to develop similar strategies in developing countries, especially in biodiversity hotspot areas.

Dr Rory Padfield, lecturer in the  Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes is a senior author of the study along with Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, Associate Professor in Tropical Conservation Ecology at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC).

The great strength of this study is the methodological approach – engaging with such a wide range of different conservation experts and related stakeholders throughout the study duration adds great weight and credibility to the outcomes. I’m confident that this type of priority setting exercise can be employed beyond Malaysia and in other academic fields.

Dr Rory Padfield, Lecturer in Human Geography, Oxford Brookes University

Malaysia is part of the Sundaland Biodiversity Hotspot and is ranked 12 globally in terms of its National Biodiversity Index. Malaysia boasts a wealth of biodiversity which includes 306 species of mammals, 742 species of birds, 567 species of reptiles and over 15,000 plant species.

Although the country has a target to increase terrestrial protected areas from 13.8 per cent of total land area in 2015 to 20 per cent by 2025, economic development has already had an impact on wildlife. The Sumatran rhino has disappeared altogether and the country has seen a steady decline in the number of Malayan tigers.

K. Nagulendran (Nagu), a third year PhD student with the School of Geographical and Environmental Sciences at UNMC, led a multi-stakeholder exercise involving several hundred participants to identify conservation priorities in Peninsular Malaysia.

Through a series of workshops and online surveys, the objective of the research was to engage relevant stakeholders in the identification of conservation priority issues in Peninsular Malaysia; produce a list of ranked conversation issues; and test differences in priority perception among the stakeholders involved in the exercise.

Dr Rory Padfield said: “Identifying and defining priorities for conservation – especially in a country such as Malaysia where there so many competing local and national priorities – is not an easy thing to achieve. There are so many different voices and opinions to take into account.

"The great strength of this study is the methodological approach – engaging with such a wide range of different conservation experts and related stakeholders throughout the study duration adds great weight and credibility to the outcomes. I’m confident that this type of priority setting exercise can be employed beyond Malaysia and in other academic fields”.   

Among the results there were a number of suggestions including, that there should be strengthening of environmental laws and enforcement, improvements to policy and management to champion biodiversity issues, and increases in funding and resource allocation. The full results - A multi-stakeholder strategy to identify conservation priorities in Peninsular Malaysia - have been published in the open access academic journal Cogent Environmental Science

Nagu, who is being co-supervised by Dr Rory Padfield, works for the Malaysian Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. He graduated with a Masters in Environmental Management from The University of Nottingham in 2003 and has been recognised by the university for his work in the evolution of Malaysia’s policies on the environment and natural resource management. 

You can read more on this story on the UNMC website.

Image: Courtesy of Jon Moore (Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network/University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.