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Private Landowners Can Help Protect Biodiversity "Arks" in the Tropics

July 27, 2012 — Many of the world’s tropical protected areas are struggling to sustain their biodiversity, according to a study just published in Nature by more than 200 scientists from around the world.

Dr. Sean O'Donnell and Emily Johnson doing field research in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Dr. Sean O'Donnell at his field research site in Monteverde, Costa Rica with field assistant Drexel University undergraduate student Emily Johnson

One of those scientists, Dr. Sean O’Donnell of Drexel University, highlighted the important, beneficial role of private landowners who work to preserve biodiversity in their land surrounding tropical reserves.

Lead author Dr. William Laurance, from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, said that “these reserves are like arks for biodiversity. But some of the arks are in danger of sinking, even though they are our best hope to sustain tropical forests and their amazing biodiversity in perpetuity.”

Among other findings, Laurance and his team noted that many nature reserves partially reflected the threats and changes in their surrounding landscapes.

O’Donnell highlighted one way this reflective quality could benefit the reserves: “Privately owned lands around the reserves where I work near Monteverde, Costa Rica are very important for preserving a range of species and buffering the reserves,” O’Donnell said. “These are basically working farms with lots of forest cover and enlightened owners. I think this is an important predictor of tropical reserve health.”

O’Donnell, a tropical ecologist with appointments in both the Department of Biology and the new Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, performs field research in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. His research focuses on the ecology and behavior of army ants, interactions between army ants and birds and the neurobiology of social insects.

Read more about the recent Nature study in the press release from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Read more about O’Donnell’s research on his lab website.

News Media Contact

Rachel Ewing - News Officer, University Communications
215-895-2614 (office), 215-298-4600 (mobile), raewing@drexel.edu

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