Using ecological thresholds to evaluate the costs and benefits of set-asides in a biodiversity hotspot

Science  29 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6200, pp. 1041-1045
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255768

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Cost-effective conservation on private land

How affordable is biodiversity conservation in a fragmented landscape? Banks-Leite et al. asked this question for the biodiversity hotspot of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. An annual investment of <10% of Brazil's agricultural subsidies could support effective ecological restoration on private lands. This would increase biodiversity in set-aside land to the same level observed in protected areas. The cost-effectiveness of this scheme suggests a path forward for conservation strategies in other similarly mixed landscapes, too.

Science, this issue p. 1041


Ecological set-asides are a promising strategy for conserving biodiversity in human-modified landscapes; however, landowner participation is often precluded by financial constraints. We assessed the ecological benefits and economic costs of paying landowners to set aside private land for restoration. Benefits were calculated from data on nearly 25,000 captures of Brazilian Atlantic Forest vertebrates, and economic costs were estimated for several restoration scenarios and values of payment for ecosystem services. We show that an annual investment equivalent to 6.5% of what Brazil spends on agricultural subsidies would revert species composition and ecological functions across farmlands to levels found inside protected areas, thereby benefiting local people. Hence, efforts to secure the future of this and other biodiversity hotspots may be cost-effective.

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