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The Implications of Global Priorities for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Associated with Protected Areas

Christopher R. Pyke, National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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Abstract

Map-based prioritization systems have become ubiquitous tools for allocating resources for biological conservation. Although the scientific basis for these systems continues to be debated, they have become a significant factor in international conservation. A recent study found that published conservation priorities are associated with over one third of conservation spending by major international nongovernmental organizations totaling over $1.5 X 109 in 2002 alone. The growing influence of these systems on the allocation of resources for conservation underscores the need to understand their ecological and environmental implications. This paper addresses the role of global priorities in contributing to the future of land protection by considering three key questions: (1) What are the implications of business-as-usual growth in land protection for the representation of biodiversity, i.e., the absence of priorities? (2) Would implementing global conservation prioritization systems change trends in biodiversity representation, i.e., conservation following priorities? (3) What are the implications of priority system-guided protected area growth for ecosystem services beyond biodiversity representation, i.e., nontarget consequences of implementation? These questions are addressed with analyses of information from the World Database for Protected Areas and the Global Gap Analysis. The results indicate that business-as-usual growth in land protection will fill gaps slowly, most likely at a rate equivalent to chance. Following global priority systems would accelerate conservation of unprotected biodiversity, gap species; however, achieving these gains would exacerbate the current highly uneven global distribution of protected areas. The majority of areas targeted by priority systems already have above average levels of protection and additions following global priority systems would encourage growth in these already above average countries. Over time, these patterns could contribute to uneven distributions of important ecosystem services. This observation does not detract from the value of global priority systems for biodiversity conservation, but it does highlight their limitations and suggest the need for more comprehensive approaches to planning and prioritizing future land protection.

Key words

hotspots; land use; priority areas; protected areas; systematic conservation planning, reserve design.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087