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Elevated fires during COVID-19 lockdown and the vulnerability of protected areas

Johanna Eklund (), Julia P. G. Jones, Matti Räsänen, Jonas Geldmann, Ari-Pekka Jokinen, Adam Pellegrini, Domoina Rakotobe, O. Sarobidy Rakotonarivo, Tuuli Toivonen and Andrew Balmford
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Johanna Eklund: University of Helsinki
Julia P. G. Jones: Bangor University
Matti Räsänen: University of Helsinki
Jonas Geldmann: University of Copenhagen
Ari-Pekka Jokinen: University of Helsinki
Adam Pellegrini: University of Cambridge
Domoina Rakotobe: Université d’Antananarivo
O. Sarobidy Rakotonarivo: Université d’Antananarivo
Tuuli Toivonen: University of Helsinki
Andrew Balmford: University of Cambridge

Nature Sustainability, 2022, vol. 5, issue 7, 603-609

Abstract: Abstract There is little robust, quantitative information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the extinction crisis. Focusing on Madagascar, one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots, we explore whether the cessation of on-site protected-area management activities due to the pandemic were associated with increased burning inside protected areas. We identify monthly excess fire anomalies by comparing observed fires with those predicted on the basis of historical and contemporary fire and weather data for all of Madagascar’s protected areas for every month 2012–2020. Through to 2019, excess fire anomalies in protected areas were few, short in duration and, in some years, coincident with social disruption linked to national elections. By contrast, in 2020, COVID-19 meant on-site management of Madagascar’s protected areas was suspended from March to July. This period was associated with 76–248% more fires than predicted, after which burning returned to normal. At a time when international biodiversity conservation faces unprecedented challenges, our results highlight the importance of on-site management for maintaining protected-area integrity.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00884-x

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