A new study revealed that national parks could preserve more species. Researchers found that these parks are more resilient than believed.
The resilience of national parks was unveiled by data scientists and ecologists at Rice University, a US private research university. They identified that national parks could play a major role in conservation. The parks were more resilient than expected. Unlike in other settings, trait diversity was protected by parks and prevented its decline, which avoided the loss of species. However, the parks must be well-established to reach that level of benefit. They published their findings in the journal Biotropica.
National Park Visitation and Spending in the US
National parks are best known for recreational activities. Some parks offer green space for people to hang out, which is one way to relieve stress. While others have amenities like bars, restaurants, and even lodging. These parks can also become tourist attractions depending on the features. Usually, tourists are attracted to beautiful landscapes or animals dwelling in the parks. Either way, national parks can provide amazing spots for locals and tourists, and can be a source of employment and income for cities.
According to the National Park Service, a US federal agency, the recreational visits in national parks in 2018 were 318.2 million, which exceeded the 300 million recreational visits for the fourth time. Throughout the country, 418 national parks featured a vast array of opportunities for inspiration or recreation. These parks produced more than 1.4 billion recreation visitor hours and over 13.9 million overnight stays. Out of 418 parks, three had more than 10 million recreation visits, nine had more than 5 million recreation visits, and 77 parks had over a million recreation visits.
Statista, a German portal for statistics, revealed the national park visitor spending in the US in 2019. Among the eight categories, lodging had the highest spending at $7.07 billion. It was followed by restaurants and bars with $4.2 billion, gas with $2.16 billion, recreation industries with $2.05 billion, retail with $1.93 billion, local transportation with $1.68 billion, groceries with $1.41 billion, and camping fees with $0.48 billion worth of visitor spending.
The figures represented the benefits of national parks in recreation and economy. Therefore, protecting every park from adverse external forces could prevent unwanted effects. The visitor spending would matter in select industries and income of employees.
National Parks Could Preserve More Animal Species
On a glance, national parks seem to be a beacon for inspiration and recreational activities only. However, one study suggests the role of these parks in protecting various animal species. Researchers did not expect that national parks can preserve animal species, similar to wildlife settings. The parks can prevent animal species to decline.
"It is a bit of a surprise. Previous studies in other places have shown that trait diversity is more sensitive to human disturbance than species diversity. Trait diversity can decline more quickly than species diversity, both in cases where species go extinct and where they don't," said Dr. Daniel Gorczynski, the first author of the study and data scientist and ecologist at Rice University.
In the study, they looked at more than 4,200 images of mammals taken from a park between 2007 and 2014. The park was the Braulio Carrillo National Park in Costa Rica. The images were taken by camera traps of the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network. They also analyzed the events that occurred within the national park. Some deforestations fragmented the rainforest of the park. In fact, more than 50% of the surrounding private lands were fragmented by deforestation. But surprisingly, deforestation was not impactful in reducing the population of animal species in the park.
Their examination of the photos showed that the population of animals did not decline, even with the deforestation. There was no mammal extinction in the said national park for eight years of the study period. A trait analysis showed that the level of functional redundancy was prevalent in the park. This redundancy allowed the ecosystem within the area to function continuously, regardless if some of the animals would become extinct in the future.
The experts explained that in wildfire conservation diversity is usually defined by the variety of animal or plant species in an ecosystem. Functional diversity is constantly studied by ecologists to determine the abundance and variation of biological traits, such as body size, diet, and reproductive rate. But trait diversity could be determined as independent of species diversity. Alone, trait diversity could show further details in the general health of the same ecosystem.
In the context of the study findings, the national park did not lose the diversity of traits among mammals. The deforestation has no effect on the trait diversity as the animal population remained healthy. The trait diversity of a well-established and maintained national park mitigated the effects of deforestation. Normally, trait diversity quickly declines due to its susceptible to human disturbances. Once that measure drops significantly, species diversity will decline and animal population will start to fall.
The resilience of well-established national parks is a surprise. Even for a long time, such resilience is evident in preserving the ecosystem and animal population. Thus, national parks can offer a robust place for different animals that may be vulnerable to human disturbances.
The researchers clarified that the study findings are encouraging. But not every national park in the world is as resilient as Braulio Carrillo. The findings only indicate the hidden potential of other national parks as an excellent sanctuary for many animal species. As such, there is a need to compare other parks, protected areas, and nonprotected areas. These sites have to be analyzed over long periods to learn about the weaknesses and strengths, which can affect resilience.
The photos in the study showed several mammals including jaguar, ocelot, tapir, tayra, coati, raccoon, javelina, deer, opossum, and some rodents. The TEAM network is not only monitoring Braulio Carrillo. It is also monitoring other sites in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.