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Evaluating the effectiveness of protected areas for maintaining biodiversity, securing habitats, and reducing threats

Evaluating the effectiveness of protected areas for maintaining biodiversity, securing habitats, and reducing threats
Jonas Geldmann

2013

Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen, 1165 Copenhagen, DENMARK.

ABSTRACT

Protected areas are amongst the most important conservation responses to halt the loss of biodiversity and cover more than 12.7% of the terrestrial surface of earth. Likewise, protected areas are an important political instrument and a key component of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD); seeking to protect at least 17% of the terrestrial surface and 10% of the coastal and marine areas by 2020. Protected areas are expected to deliver on many different objectives covering biodiversity, climate change mitigation, local livelihood, and cultural & esthetic values. Within each of these categories a suite of relevant success matrices exist including; coverage, quality, and performance.

This PhD thesis deals with the effectiveness of terrestrial protected areas using temporal data to explore whether protected areas have had a positive effect as a consequence of their establishment. The aim of this thesis has been to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of protected area in securing biodiversity, by evaluating their ability to either improve conservation responses, the state of biodiversity, or alternatively to reduce the human pressures responsible for the loss of biodiversity. The scope of the thesis has been exclusively terrestrial.

Through the six chapters making up the core of this PhD I have explored the effectiveness of protected areas looking at general patterns transcending individual case-studies.

This has involved using large scale existing global data sets, systematic literature reviews and participating in developing global databases. Combined, it explores protected area effectiveness covering changes in i) pressures, ii) state, and iii) responses , as well as setting protected area effectiveness in a topological and political context.

Chapter I is a systematic literature review on the effectiveness of protected areas in delivering either reduced habitat loss or improvements for species populations. Reviewing more than 2,500 articles I find that there are few studies and little evidence for protected areas effect on species populations, making it difficult to draw strong conclusion from already published works. For protected areas ability to reduce habitat loss the evidence is stronger, suggesting that protected areas have been able to reduce the rate of habitat loss compared to a counterfactual scenario. In chapter II we evaluate the different types of methods to assess management, discussing five different generic categories: i) ambient monitoring, ii) management assessment, iii) performance management, iv) impact evaluation, and v) systematic reviews and their differences in application and scope. Chapter III looks at the extent to which the global community is living up to their obligations for the 2020 Aichi target of protecting 17% of their terrestrial surface as well as ensuring that these are effectively and equitably managed. We show that globally 29% of PA area has been assessed, and 23% of countries have reached the 60% target, but also find strong positive biases towards larger protected areas and national parks. Chapter IV is an analysis of how management changes over time in protected areas that has conducted management effectiveness evaluations. On average management improves in protected areas and especially formulations of management plans, monitoring activities, and development of protected area objectives are responsible for the observed improvements. The results also suggests that the reporting usually conducted by local area managers is to some extent a reflection of true improvements and not only motivated by the need to report conservation successes. Chapter V looks at the extent to which protected areas have been able to reduce human pressure. I first developed a global spatial and temporal precise map at 5 km2 resolution of changes in human pressure between 1995 and 2010. This map shows an average increase in human pressure inside protected areas globally, but less so in IUCN management categories with more stick management prescriptions. In chapter VI I look at the correlation between management (using the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool) and changes in species populations in 53 protected areas across 17 countries, finding that the interaction between Human Development Index and implementation of management plans significantly affects the trend of vertebrate populations, so that areas with has a management plan have are correlated positively to increasing human development.

The results presented in this PhD thesis has contributed to show that protected areas are effective compared to no protection, but also elutes to them not being a panacea for halting the loss of biodiversity. Both populations and habitats are overall decreasing while human pressure both inside and outside protected areas increases. However the results also suggest that management in protected areas do have an effect and that many protected areas have seen an improvement in management over time. A second and perhaps equally important conclusion is that strong empirically based evidence on the effectiveness of protected areas is impeded by the lack of good data to measure change compared to a counterfactual scenario. Too often, data generation has been driven by the need to inform individual studies or fueled by the desire to improve methods thus leaving the conservation community in the quandary of an increasing amount of data continuously being available but still lacking state of the art data to answer the most relevant questions in conservation science.