Five science stars making their mark in China

From Nature:

In February, China more than doubled its number of protected species, with 517 additions, including the wolf, large-spotted civet and golden jackal. It was the first update since 1989, and to pioneering conservationist, Lu Zhi, it was a good sign. “I think the government is changing, especially the top leaders, who are sincerely into the environmental issues, not just [related to] wildlife, but also ecosystem restoration and pollution control,” she says. Attitudes towards conservation in China have shifted greatly in recent decades. In the mid-1980s, when Lu was an undergraduate student at Peking University in Beijing, she says the field of conservation biology was not yet recognized in China. Since then, local governments have been designating a growing number of protected areas and the state has announced a ‘red line’ initiative, which defines limits to human encroachment into ecologically sensitive and vulnerable areas totalling more than 2.4 million square kilometres — roughly one-quarter of the Chinese mainland. Such strategies have great potential. In the Beijing municipality, for example, forest cover has increased from 7% in the 1950s to 43% today, says Lu.

At the same time, the public has become increasingly attuned to the natural world. Since the 1990s, organized bird-watching has become a popular activity on the Chinese mainland, and it feeds valuable data collected by local community groups into population studies. Last year, Lu and her colleagues used data from the Bird Report, the largest nationwide project involving the submission of birdwatching records in China, to simulate changes in the range and habitat of 1,042 bird species through to the year 2070 and identify those most at risk (R. Hu et al. PLoS ONE 15, e0240225; 2020). Although the global trend of species loss and habitat destruction is desperate everywhere, says Lu, “in my own life history, in 30 years, I do see positive changes in China and in the world”.

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