As developed nations — the source of more than 90 per cent of all conservation spending — ramp up their aid for conserving biodiversity in developing nations by 2015, knowledge of where such funds are most needed may help it get there, researchers say.
It has been known that some countries' conservation efforts are severely underfunded and therefore need to be prioritised for international support.
But previous attempts to identify them have been hampered by "poor and incomplete data on actual spending", as well as by "uncertainty and lack of consensus over the relative size of spending gaps", the researchers behind the model write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where their work was published last month (1 July).
The researchers compiled a global database of annual conservation spending, which they say is the most complete of its kind. They then created a statistical model that explains 86 per cent of the variation in global spending patterns for 2001-2008.
From this model, the team compared known spending levels with those expected by the model to highlight countries with severe underfunding.
The majority of the 40 countries they identified are in the developing world and these 40 nations contain nearly a third of the world's most threatened mammals.
The five most underfunded are Iraq, Djibouti, Angola, Kyrgyzstan and Guyana.
Of the total spending analysed for 2001-2008, 94 per cent was by upper-income countries, with the remainder from middle- and low-income countries.
“Targeting scarce conservation funding at the most threatened species and sites is vital if we are to prevent immediate losses.”
The researchers say that "very modest increases in international assistance would achieve a large improvement in the relative adequacy of global conservation finance.
"International conservation donors have the opportunity to act now, in a swift and coordinated fashion, to reduce an immediate wave of further biodiversity declines at relatively little cost."
Lead researcher Anthony Waldron, now a visiting professor at Santa Cruz State University in Brazil, tells SciDev.Net: "For developing nations, financial resources often come in the form of international aid for biodiversity conservation. In that case, donors might coordinate to improve the funding situation of some of the highlighted countries."
Arne Mooers, co-author of the study and professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada, says the information form the study could be used "to identify the areas that are severely underfunded and that contain irreplaceable biodiversity, and that have the governance to make use of increased funding, and then increase international funding to these places.
"Ideally, this would be new funding, but we might have to divert existing funding in the short term."
Donal McCarthy, an environmental economist at UK-based charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, tells SciDev.Net: "Targeting scarce conservation funding at the most threatened species and sites is vital if we are to prevent immediate losses. Spending existing money in those places where it offers the greatest conservation benefit is an important stopgap approach to dealing with the current funding crisis."
But existing conservation funding must also be scaled up to meet long-term global conservation targets, he warns.
"Developed countries have already committed to doubling biodiversity-related funding to developing countries by 2015. The results of this study can be used to help direct any additional resources [from international donors] to where they are most urgently required and to where they can deliver the most for nature," McCarthy says.
Link to full paper