Species - area models have become the primary tool used to predict baseline extinction rates for species in isolated habitats, and have influenced conservation and land-use planning worldwide. In particular, these models have been used to predict extinction rates following the loss or fragmentation of natural habitats in the absence of direct human influence on species persistence. Thus, where direct human influences, such as hunting, put added pressure on species in remnant habitat patches, we should expect to observe extinction rates higher than those predicted by simple species - area models. Here, we show that extinction rates for 41 species of large mammals in six nature reserves in West Africa are 14-307 times higher than those predicted by models based on reserve size alone. Human population and reserve size accounted for 98% of the observed variation in extinction rates between reserves. Extinction occurred at higher rates than predicted by species-area models for carnivores, primates and ungulates, and at the highest rates overall near reserve borders. Our results indicate that, where the harvest of wildlife is common, conservation plans should focus on increasing the size of reserves and reducing the rate of hunting.
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