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To Conserve and Protect

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 11/30/2016 More stories >>

Dr. Barnes is assessing the damaging impact of runoff from resorts and other areas on reefs in West Maui.

Dr. Barnes is assessing the damaging impact of runoff from resorts and other areas on reefs in West Maui.

Conservationists have sometimes been called tree-huggers. But as Megan Barnes, post-doctoral fellow in the department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, could tell you, it’s not enough to hug a tree. You have to analyze the physical environment the tree grows in, assess the fauna and flora living in and around it, calculate the economic and environmental impacts on it, and tabulate countless other variables to figure out how best to save it. With a background in theoretical and applied conservation science, Dr. Barnes applies this rigorous approach to gathering and evaluating data to drive positive change.

Dr. Barnes, who works in ecological economist Dr. Kirsten Oleson’s lab at CTAHR, has expertise in tropical and behavioral ecology, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, protected areas management, and conservation planning. All are instrumental to the project she’s now working on, assessing the health of and threats to reef systems in West Maui that are impacted by fertilizer and other types of pollution.

Dr. Megan Barnes is a decision scientist who likes to

Dr. Megan Barnes is a decision scientist who likes to "get her boots dirty" with fieldwork.

Also an expert in global vertebrate fauna, Dr. Barnes is the lead author on an international study of wildlife trends in protected areas, the largest investigation to date, recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The study, which Dr. Barnes did while at the University of Queensland, examined 1902 populations of 556 species of birds and mammals in 447 protected areas in 72 countries between 1970 and 2010.

The good news is that, for the most part, protected areas are successfully safeguarding wildlife populations within their boundaries. The curious news is that the socio-economic conditions of the countries in which the protected areas are located turn out to be far more critical to the success of parks than factors previously thought to be influential, such as size, design, or type of protected area. Both of these findings suggest the continued need for adequate support of these parks. “National parks are the cornerstone of most country’s conservation plans, so it’s essential they work as well as possible,” Dr. Barnes explains. There are still a number of protected areas where wildlife populations are declining, especially in developing nations, and these urgently need support so they can successfully preserve the biodiversity that is so crucially necessary to the future of the planet.

All of Dr. Barnes’s work underscores an important point: conservation requires careful study as well as a strong commitment to making a difference. She provides both.