A people-centered approach to protecting our planet

Biodiversity is the foundation of life on earth.

But we’re in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis. Species are going extinct faster than ever, and many of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are in countries burdened by poverty, food insecurity, and intensifying climate change.

To protect biodiversity—and the prosperity of local communities worldwide—we must support community-led conservation initiatives that use responsible, sustainable, and biodiversity-friendly practices. Such practices protect our soil, water, forests, and wildlife.

Rare is a global leader in driving social change for people and nature. For nearly 50 years, across 60 countries, Rare has established itself as a trusted partner for locally led and community-managed conservation. Through our work with fishers, farmers, and other resource users, we have inspired and engaged millions of people and their communities to shift their behaviors and practices to protect our shared planet.

» Learn more below about the topics of biodiversity and conservation.

» Learn more about Rare’s work and approach to promoting biodiversity through the global 30×30 campaign, sustainable fisheries management, regenerative farming, and the Center for Behavior & the Environment.

 

What Is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on earth, including plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms. So far, scientists have discovered 1.7 million species on our planet but estimate a total of 8.7 million species—meaning that we haven’t yet found most plants, insects, and animals.

Why Is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity is the bedrock of diversity and wildlife on earth. It helps ecosystems thrive, protects us from natural disasters, regulates the climate, and provides food, fertile soil, and medicine.

Biodiversity is why our rainforests are full of life and our oceans brim with marine variety. Birds help transport and dispose of seeds across vast landscapes. Honeybees pollinate 70% of the crops that feed the world. And angelfish help maintain healthy coral reefs by eating fast-growing coral. Each species plays a critical role in its ecosystem, and specific species groupings—namely keystone, foundation, indicator, and flagship—are particularly important to life on earth.

The Most Important Species for Biodiversity

Some species are more important than others for supporting biodiversity in local ecosystems. Biologists categorize plants and animals with the most significant roles in ecosystem health as the following:

Keystone Species

A species that plays a disproportionally large role in supporting an ecosystem’s health, function, and food web. E.g., Sea otters help maintain healthy seagrass beds by eating sea urchins that prey on kelp.

Foundation Species

An ecosystem engineer that supports habitats by shaping the physical environment. E.g., Coral polyps and zooxanthellae create large coral reefs that provide habitat for thousands of diverse marine species.

Indicator Species

A highly sensitive species that reflects the ecosystem’s conditions and overall health. E.g., A decline in frog populations alerts scientists of potential environmental toxins due to the animal’s highly permeable skin that absorbs pollutants.

Flagship Species

A charismatic species that is an ambassador for a species’ recovery and conservation. E.g., The polar bear helps foster a desire for people to act on climate change to protect endangered species.

How Does Climate Change Affect Biodiversity?

The effects of climate change are shifting global landscapes and making ecosystems less viable for the earth’s biodiversity. For example, in the Arctic, warming temperatures are melting ice caps, decreasing permafrost coverage, turning precipitation into rain, and raising sea levels. The world’s forest and desert landscapes are suffering from severe droughts, increased temperatures, and unprecedented wildfires like the 2020 bushfires in Australia.

Cold-blooded animals like birds, amphibians, and reptiles are especially threatened by climate change due to reproduction and migration patterns linked to environmental temperatures. The National Audubon Society found that two-thirds of North American birds are at an increased risk of extinction due to rising global temperatures. Increasing temperatures are also causing a widespread phenomenon of female turtle hatchlings since temperature determines the sex of egg embryos.

How Does Climate Change Threaten Biodiversity in the Ocean?

The effects of climate change, like rising sea levels and increasing temperatures, are driving biodiversity loss in the ocean. Marine heatwaves amplify ocean acidification and threaten the survival of shelled organisms, fish larvae, and coral reefs. Severe weather events and warming waters can wipe out local fish stocks, leading people to lose their livelihoods. According to recent United Nations findings, more than one-third of all shark species, coral reefs, and marine mammals are threatened with extinction.

Why Should We Protect Biodiversity?

Biodiversity benefits ecosystems, human health, food security, and climate change mitigation. For example:

Genetically diverse populations are more resilient to diseases, which helps species survive.

Marine ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs function as buffers that protect coastal communities against harsh storms, flooding, and erosion.

Pollinators like birds, bees, and insects support our global food system by pollinating vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Diverse wildlife provides intrinsic value and joy to millions of people.

What is the Single Greatest Threat to Biodiversity?

Humans are the single greatest threat to biodiversity. All global drivers of biodiversity loss, including agricultural expansion, wildlife trade, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, plastic waste, and more, have at least one thing in common: human activities drive them.

The good news is that humans have the power to protect biodiversity. Using behavioral insights to design environmental solutions provides a unique opportunity to address these challenges. While policy reform and enforcement are critically important, so too are changes by the indviduals and stakeholders directly involved.

Is It Too Late to Save Biodiversity?

It’s not too late to save biodiversity, but we must act now. The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. We are in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but deliberate action can mitigate the effects of biodiversity loss. The most effective steps to save biodiversity include restoring high biodiversity and carbon-rich ecosystems, adopting sustainable agricultural practices, implementing climate adaptation measures, and reducing deforestation.

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What is Conservation?

Conservation is protecting, managing, and restoring the biodiversity and natural resources on which we all depend. Conservation ultimately comes down to people – their behaviors toward nature, their beliefs about its value, and their ability to protect it without sacrificing basic life needs. And so, conservationists must become as skilled in social change as in science, as committed to community-based solutions as national and international policymaking.

What is Community Conservation?

Community conservation is a conservation approach that integrates local communities into developing effective solutions that protect local biodiversity and landscapes. Community-led conservation is when local communities lead this work. The local communities that rely on nature directly are at the heart of biodiversity conservation, protection, and sustainable resource use. Their actions significantly safeguard biodiversity, ensure livelihoods and food security, and build people’s climate resilience.

Rare practices community-led conservation. By partnering directly with local people and organizations on the frontlines of climate change and other global challenges, Rare helps local communities implement proven behavioral solutions that benefit people and nature.

The Canoe Ladies are a self-organized group of 50 local women who fish daily to provide food and economic security to their families in Cocalito, a small fishing village in the Garifuna municipality of Iriona.
The Canoe Ladies are a self-organized group of 50 local Indigenous women who fish daily to provide food and economic security to their families in Cocalito, a small fishing village in the Garifuna municipality of Iriona, Honduras. Photo Credit: Lorena Velasco for Rare

How Do Indigenous Peoples Help Environmental Conservation?

Indigenous Peoples and communities are critical in managing biodiversity and global landscapes. Indigenous communities have a long history of managing landscapes and protecting natural resources sustainably. Their deep connection with nature fosters a strong understanding of local ecosystems and the most effective holistic mitigation methods to prevent environmental degradation. Incorporating traditional knowledge and leadership opportunities for Indigenous communities is critical to protecting the earth’s biodiversity.

The Benefits of Community-Based Conservation

Protecting the earth’s surface area is going to rely on people. As the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People acknowledges, the only viable path to protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030 (a target known as 30×30) is one led by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), through its Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), set this global target in December 2022.

Experience has proven that durable conservation and protection of natural habitats rely on community support. Rare’s Pride campaigns have shown that effectively engaging communities living on the margins of protected areas, for example, can improve outcomes within those areas.

Community-led conservation is a successful technique for protecting biodiversity because it allows real change to happen locally. For example, smallholder farmers can support diverse local plants and animals by switching to regenerative agricultural practices. These practices include using composting to fertilize the soil, expanding cover crops, reforesting with native plants and trees, and integrating native pest management to reduce the use of chemicals.

What is the Future of Conservation?

Global climate change and biodiversity loss are the biggest existential threats of our time. The future of human health, biodiversity, and the earth’s ecological systems relies on today’s conservation efforts and the actions of the next generations. Local communities, global governments, scientists, and conservation organizations must join efforts in implementing climate solutions for ecosystem resilience and biodiversity.

How does Rare Support Biodiversity Conservation?

Solutions for protecting biodiversity must come from the local communities stewarding those resources. Rare balances conservation with human use, centering local communities in solving their natural resource challenges. Rare’s programs engage smallholder farmers and small-scale fishers in mobilizing their communities to improve land and fisheries management and reduce pressure on agriculture and fisheries.

  • At sea, Rare’s Fish Forever program seeks to protect, manage, and restore the territorial seas for people and nature. It‘s a strong example of efforts to achieve conservation targets through sustainable resource use and biodiversity protection. The program inspires fishers to shift towards more sustainable fishing practices that protect biodiversity and habitats like coral reefs and mangrove forests.  And it works with fishing communities and their local governments to create networks of fully-protected and community-led no-take marine reserves that replenish and sustain fish populations and protect critical habitat
  • On land, Rare’s Lands for Life program helps strengthen Colombian smallholder farming communities by working with local leaders to adopt more sustainable and regenerative farming practices across the region. Regenerative agriculture can help smallholder farmers, their families, and their wider communities through job growth, food, and economic security. Regenerative practices, like composting and planting native tree species, protect biodiversity.  These practices have so many benefits: they help to rebuild soil nutrients and help protect and retain water so plants can grow well and species have critical water sources, reduce farmers’ dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, rebuild wildlife corridors, and so much more.
  • Using the science of human behavior, Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment trains environmental practitioners in behavior-centered design to maximize the impact of their work protecting biodiversity. Our Campaigning for Conservation training offers communities worldwide the tools and skills to promote local biodiversity protection, while our Solution Search contest surfaces solutions that that use behavioral approaches to protect biodiversity and address other global challenges, like water pollution and wildlife trade.
  • Through global fora, such as the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), Rare elevates the local leaders and communities at the forefront of biodiversity conservation. The GBF set a global target of conserving 30% of land and ocean by 2030, known as the 30×30 campaign, following the CBD’s 15th Conference of Parties meeting (CBD COP15) in Montreal, Canada. Since the gobal target explicitly emphasizes protecting areas of “particular importance to biodiversity and its contribution to people,” Rare is supporting our partner communities to reach 30 x 30.

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