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Protected area expansion target: Is a huge promise lost in land use change and lack of international cooperation? 

By expanding the protected area network to 17 per cent of land, the present protection levels of terrestrial vertebrates could be tripled. Globally coordinated protected area network expansion could deliver a result 50 per cent more efficient compared to countries looking at biodiversity only within their own area. Land conversion is, however, fast degrading options for conservation.

Protected areas are one of the main tools for halting the ongoing global biodiversity crisis.  According to Aichi Target 11, adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the global protected area network should be expanded from the present 11 per cent to at least 17 per cent of terrestrial areas by 2020.

“Our results show that there’s a very high potential to significantly increase species protection levels by expanding the protected area network. With 17 per cent of land we could triple the present protection levels, measured by the average fraction of the remaining range of a species protected. This would mean going up to a coverage of more than 60 per cent compared to the present 19 per cent. Of course, this would require the expansion to be planned carefully and implemented in practice,” says Assistant Professor Tuuli Toivonen from the Conservation Biology Informatics Group at the University of Helsinki.

“Unfortunately, our analysis also shows that the opportunity may be lost due to land use change. If land use projections are realised, more than 1,000 threatened species could lose more than 50 per cent of their present effective ranges worldwide,” says Dr Federico Montesino Pouzols from the same research group.

The results show that there is strong evidence of the need for international collaboration in conservation.

“In fact, globally coordinated protected area network expansion will deliver an approximately 50 per cent more efficient result compared to countries looking at biodiversity only within their own area,” says Montesino Pouzols.

The results are based on an extensive conservation prioritisation that combines global distribution data for 24,757 terrestrial vertebrates and 827 terrestrial ecoregions with advanced land use models for the present and for 2040.

“The analysis approach can serve as a model for repeatable and quantitative assessment of conservation efficiency, gaps and expansion of the global protected area network. As data quality improves, it’ll be increasingly possible to plan conservation actions efficiently simultaneously at the global and local levels,” says Professor Atte Moilanen, head of the team.

The research has mostly been conducted with support from the European Research Council (ERC-StG project GEDA) and the Academy of Finland’s programme for Centres of Excellence.

Article: Pouzols, F.M.,  Toivonen, T,. Di Minin, E., Kukkala, A., Kullberg, P., Kuusterä, J., Lehtomäki, J., Tenkanen, H., Verburg, P.H. & Moilanen, A. (2014) Global protected area expansion is compromised by projected land-use and parochialism. doi:10.1038/nature14032

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