Replacing underperforming protected areas achieves better conservation outcomes


Protected areas vary enormously in their contribution to conserving biodiversity, and the inefficiency of protected area systems is widely acknowledged1,2,3. However, conservation plans focus overwhelmingly on adding new sites to current protected area estates4. Here we show that the conservation performance of a protected area system can be radically improved, without extra expenditure, by replacing a small number of protected areas with new ones that achieve more for conservation. Replacing the least cost-effective 1% of Australia’s 6,990 strictly protected areas could increase the number of vegetation types that have 15% or more of their original extent protected from 18 to 54, of a maximum possible of 58. Moreover, it increases markedly the area that can be protected, with no increase in overall spending. This new paradigm for protected area system expansion could yield huge improvements to global conservation at a time when competition for land is increasingly intense.

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Figure 1: Cost effectiveness in Australia’s protected areas.
Figure 2: Conservation outcomes delivered by protected area replacement.


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We thank J. Stein for providing subcatchment data, and L. Barr, C. Fuller, B. Kendall, T. Martin and H. Wilson for discussion. This work was funded by the Centre for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis, an Australian Commonwealth Environment Research Facility.

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All authors designed the research. E.M.-M., D.C.G. and R.A.F. performed the analysis, and R.A.F. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Fuller.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Fuller, R., McDonald-Madden, E., Wilson, K. et al. Replacing underperforming protected areas achieves better conservation outcomes. Nature 466, 365–367 (2010).

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