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Stanford researchers develop new method of estimating biodiversity beyond the borders of protected areas

Historically, conservationists have protected species by placing large swaths of land into preserves and parks. However, only 13 percent of the world’s land area is located in protected natural land. Most of the planet’s species live in ecological gray areas, located within a gradient where one end is pristine wilderness, the other a parking lot.

Costa Rican farming area

Stanford researchers discovered that in agricultural areas of Costa Rica, increased tree cover corresponds with increases in biodiversity. (Image credit: David Spangenburg)

Protecting species in these gray areas is a challenge because there’s no way to measure biodiversity without time-consuming field surveys. With no way to estimate biodiversity, making decisions for protecting habitat and species is difficult. Researchers at Stanford, through extensive observations, mapping and analysis, have now generated a method of estimating biodiversity based on tree cover. The results can be used by policymakers to help protect tropical biodiversity and endangered species.

“We’ve created a framework for counting something previously uncountable,” said Chase D. Mendenhall, a postdoctoral research fellow in biology at Stanford. Mendenhall is a lead author in a new study, to be published Oct. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that has created a quantitative measure of biodiversity across agricultural and urban landscapes.

See full story by Ula Chrobak