Tropical forests are experiencing an "alarmingly widespread" loss of biodiversity, according to research that appears in the journal Nature on Thursday.
"The rapid disruption of tropical forests probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other contemporary phenomenon," the research team wrote.
The more than 200 researchers looked at 60 protected areas in 36 countries for changes over the last 20 - 30 years and found that half of them had suffered serious losses to biodiversity as a result of habitat destruction and deforestation.
Carolina Useche of the Humboldt Institute in Colombia, one of the scientists participating in the study, said that "the scariest thing about our findings is just how widespread the declines of species are in the suffering reserves."
"It’s not just a few groups that are hurting, but an alarmingly wide array of species," she said.
The study notes that protecting the area around preserves was an important factor in saving the biodiversity, as the preserves acted as "mirrors" of the surrounding areas. "For example, if a park has a lot of fires and illegal mining around it, those same threats can also penetrate inside it, to some degree," Useche says.
Lead author Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who is also a senior research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research stresses the need to protect these vital areas. "Tropical forests are the biologically richest real estate on the planet, and a lot of that biodiversity will vanish without good protected areas."