Letters to Nature

Nature 426, 67-70 (6 November 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature02025; Received 6 June 2003; Accepted 22 August 2003

Governance and the loss of biodiversity

R. J. Smith1, R. D. J. Muir1, M. J. Walpole1, A. Balmford2 & N. Leader-Williams1

  1. Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NS, UK
  2. Conservation Biology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

Correspondence to: R. J. Smith1 Email: R.J.Smith@kent.ac.uk

Most of the world's biodiversity occurs within developing countries that require donor support to build their conservation capacity1. Unfortunately, some of these countries experience high levels of political corruption2, which may limit the success of conservation projects by reducing effective funding levels and distorting priorities3. We investigated whether changes in three well surveyed and widespread components of biodiversity were associated with national governance scores and other socio-economic measures. Here we show that governance scores were correlated with changes in total forest cover, but not with changes in natural forest cover. We found strong associations between governance scores and changes in the numbers of African elephants and black rhinoceroses, and these socio-economic factors explained observed patterns better than any others. Finally, we show that countries rich in species and identified as containing priority areas for conservation have lower governance scores than other nations. These results stress the need for conservationists to develop and implement policies that reduce the effects of political corruption and, in this regard, we question the universal applicability of an influential approach to conservation that seeks to ban international trade in endangered species.