The ideas of classical island biogeography1 have been used2–6 to derive rules for the optimal design strategy for nature reserves. For example, Diamond3 states that, given limited (financial) resources, it is better to purchase a few large reserves rather than many small ones of equal total area; and that reserves should be as close to one another as possible. The validity of some of these rules has, however, been questioned7–10; for example it has recently been shown9,10 that several small reserves may contain more species than a single one of equivalent area. These rules have nevertheless been accepted uncritically by others, including the IUCN11. Here, I examine Diamond's rule3 that reserves should be as round as possible and conclude that in certain circumstances the optimal shape may be other than circular. There is no a priori reason for believing that these circumstances are unrealistic, and I know of no observational evidence to suggest whether they are found in nature or not. I also reason that the rule that reserves should be as close to each other as possible is inconsistent with the statement that they should be circular.
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