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Tackling the Biodiversity Crisis – BBC 4 Interview with Stuart Pimm & Georgiana Mace

The Earth is losing its biodiversity at an alarming rate. Species are becoming extinct between 100 and 1,000 times faster than normal, as a direct result of human activity. In 2005, the UN-commissioned Millennium Ecosystem Assessment highlighted the damaging effect that declining biodiversity is having on human well-being, by for example threatening food supplies and the provision of clean air and water that we all depend on to survive.

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But what should we do to tackle the problem? One strategy, first proposed by Professor Norman Myers of Oxford University is to focus conservation efforts on ‘biodiversity hotspots’. These are special places where there are very high concentrations of threatened ‘endemic’ species – that is, species that are found nowhere else. A recent assessment has identified 34 such hotspots, covering just 2.3% of the Earth’s land surface, yet harbouring between 40 and 50% of the planet’s estimated 10 million species.

The hotspots idea has certainly caught the public’s attention and has attracted a great deal of funding. So far at least $900 million has been raised to support hotspot conservation and there are many successful hotspot conservation projects running around the world. But some conservation biologists worry that hotspots are the wrong priority for conservation. They question whether the strategy is cost effective and wonder if the goal to save the maximum number of species is the right one.

Some have suggested that a focus on conserving ‘protected areas’ is like putting money into intensive care beds as opposed to vaccination – it’s a distraction from the real issue which is the need to change people’s attitudes by integrating conservation into our everyday lives. To debate the arguments for and against focussing conservation efforts on biodiversity hotspots, Sue is joined by Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation Biology at Duke University in the USA, who has his own hotspot conservation charity – savingspecies.org; and also by Professor Georgina Mace, Director of the Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College, who worked on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

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