Effectiveness of Protected Areas and Implications for Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Duran, America Paz
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Protected areas (PAs) are considered a key strategy to ensure the in situ persistence of biodiversity and the ecosystem services (ES) that this provides. The coverage of PAs has exponentially expanded in the last 25 years, and they now account for approximately 13% of the Earth's surface. Alongside this expansion, PA research literature has also increased seeking to identify and assess the main factors that influence the effectiveness of PAs in sheltering biodiversity and ES from anthropogenic pressures. Spatial distribution, spatial design, management strategy and threats, have been widely acknowledged as key factors. However, despite significant progress, several aspects of these factors remain poorly explored. This thesis aims to identify and address some of the gaps, which I detail below. The second chapter contributes to understanding of how the distribution of PAs affects the representation of biodiversity and ES. To this end, the Chilean PA system was used as a case study as this has never been previously assessed in terms of ES. I found that the strong bias in Chilean PAs distribution toward southern areas, which contain mainly ice and bare rock, hampers the PA system in achieving effective representativeness. The third and fourth chapters address some gaps in PA spatial design. The third assesses for the first time the spatial design of the global PA system and provides new methodologies to achieve this at such a large scale. Focusing on the size, shape, level of fragmentation, occurrence of buffer zones and proximity to the closest PA, I demonstrate that PAs tend to be small, irregularly shaped and fragmented. However, they are often close to one another and generally have buffer zones. Using the methodology generated on third chapter, I explicitly test in the fourth chapter the combined and interactive effects of PA spatial features on their ability to represent biodiversity, which has never been tested before. Using South America as a model for study I show that the spatial design largely explains biodiversity representation and that the interaction between spatial features affects the latter. The fifth chapter focuses on threats to PAs, assessing the extent to which metal mining activities represent an actual conflict with the global PA system. Evidence suggests that the global terrestrial PA system has been effective at displacing metal mining activities from within its bounds. However, given the high proportion of mines found in the close surroundings of PAs, and the distances over which mining activities can have influences, it is highly likely that the conservation performance of a significant proportion of PAs is being affected. So far I have demonstrated that PAs are not always optimally distributed and they can compete with other land uses, which can undermine their functionality. In this regard, in the final analytical chapter I explore how using spatial conservation prioritization (SCP) tools it is possible to optimize the representation of conservation features by minimizing competition with other land uses. Specifically, I assess the consequences for biodiversity and ES representation of incorporating land use trade-offs in SCP analyses. I show that the dichotomist decision of treating a land use as a trade-off or not can have enormous consequences on biodiversity and ES representation, and the implications of such decisions have to be considered before policy recommendations. This thesis shows that distribution, spatial design and threats play an important role in PA representativeness, and that SCP techniques can make a significant contribution to balancing biodiversity and ES conservation with human activities, when trade-offs are treated comprehensively. Finally, I discuss the importance of prioritising the interactions between, rather than just individual effects of, factors in order to optimise PA effectiveness and the distribution of scarce conservation resources.
PhD in Biological Sciences