Originally conceived to conserve iconic landscapes and wildlife, protected areas are now expected to achieve an increasingly diverse set of conservation, social and economic objectives. The amount of land and sea designated as formally protected has markedly increased over the past century, but there is still a major shortfall in political commitments to enhance the coverage and effectiveness of protected areas. Financial support for protected areas is dwarfed by the benefits that they provide, but these returns depend on effective management. A step change involving increased recognition, funding, planning and enforcement is urgently needed if protected areas are going to fulfil their potential.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
A perspective on biodiversity data and applications for spatio-temporally robust spatial planning for area-based conservation
Discover Sustainability Open Access 03 January 2023
Ambio Open Access 24 December 2022
Biodiversity and Conservation Open Access 05 November 2022
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
UNEP–WCMC. World Database on Protected Areas http://www.wdpa.org (accessed April 2014).
Sanderson, E. W. et al. The human footprint and the last of the wild. Bioscience 52, 891–904 (2002).
Stolton, S. & Dudley, N. Arguments for Protected Areas: Multiple Benefits for Conservation and Us (Earthscan, 2010).
Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M. B. & Brandon, K. The role of protected areas in conserving biodiversity and sustaining local livelihoods. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 30, 219–252 (2005). This is an important review that explores the different roles of protected areas and the implications of different objectives.
White, C., Halpern, B. S. & Kappel, C. V. Ecosystem service tradeoff analysis reveals the value of marine spatial planning for multiple ocean uses. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 4696–4701 (2012).
Convention on Biological Diversity. COP 10 Decision X/2: Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 http://www.cbd.int/decision/cop/?id=12268 (CBD, 2011). The CBD strategic plan for protected areas identifies targets that countries are obligated to meet by 2020.
Chape, S., Harrison, J., Spalding, M. & Lysenko, I. Measuring the extent and effectiveness of protected areas as an indicator for meeting global biodiversity targets. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 360, 443–455 (2005).
Shahabuddin, G. & Rao, M. Do community-conserved areas effectively conserve biological diversity? Global insights and the Indian context. Biol. Conserv. 143, 2926–2936 (2010). This is the first large review of community conserved areas and how they compare with other forms of protected areas.
Peres, C. A. & Nascimento, H. S. Impact of game hunting by the Kayapó of south-eastern Amazonia: implications for wildlife conservation in tropical forest indigenous reserves. Biodivers. Conserv. 15, 2627–2653 (2006).
Phillips, A. The history of the international system of protected area management categories. Parks 14, 4–14 (2004). This paper provides an important history of the modern protected area movement.
Runte, A. The national park idea: origins and paradox of the American experience. J. For. Hist. 21, 64–75 (1977).
Zeiger, J. B., Caneday, L. M. & Baker, P. R. Symbiosis between tourism and our national parks. Parks Recreat. 27, 74–79 (1992).
Balmford, A. et al. A global perspective on trends in nature-based tourism. PLoS Biol. 7, e1000144 (2009).
Maekawa, M., Lanjouw, A., Rutagarama, E. & Sharp, D. Mountain gorilla tourism generating wealth and peace in post-conflict Rwanda. Nat. Resour. Forum 37, 127–137 (2013).
International Union for Conservation of Nature. World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (IUCN–UNEP–WWF, 1980).
Butchart, S. H. M. et al. Protecting important sites for biodiversity contributes to meeting global conservation targets. PLoS ONE 7, e32529 (2012).
Geldmann, J. et al. Effectiveness of terrestrial protected areas in reducing habitat loss and population declines. Biol. Conserv. 161, 230–238 (2013).
Joppa, L. & Pfaff, A. Reassessing the forest impacts of protection. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 1185, 135–149 (2010).
Micheli, F. & Niccolini, F. Achieving success under pressure in the conservation of intensely used coastal areas. Ecol. Soc. 18, 19 (2013).
Edgar, G. J. et al. Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features. Nature 506, 216–220 (2014).
Lester, S. E. et al. Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 384, 33–46 (2009). This is an important global synthesis on the effectiveness of strict MPAs.
Karanth, K. K., Nichols, J. D., Hines, J. E., Karanth, K. U. & Christensen, N. L. Patterns and determinants of mammal species occurrence in India. J. Appl. Ecol. 46, 1189–1200 (2009).
Taylor, M. et al. What works for threatened species recovery? An empirical evaluation for Australia. Biodivers. Conserv. 20, 767–777 (2011).
Sheehan, E. V., Stevens, T. F., Gall, S. C., Cousens, S. L. & Attrill, M. J. Recovery of a temperate reef assemblage in a marine protected area following the exclusion of towed demersal fishing. PLoS ONE 8, e83883 (2013).
Sciberras, M., Jenkins, S. R., Kaiser, M. J., Hawkins, S. J. & Pullin, A. S. Evaluating the biological effectiveness of fully and partially protected marine areas. Environ. Evid. 2, 4 (2013).
Laurance, W. F. et al. Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature 489, 290–294 (2012). This article is an important meta-analysis of 60 protected areas located across the tropics that assess the different drivers of change in protected areas and differential impacts on species.
Walston, J. et al. Bringing the tiger back from the brink — the six percent solution. PLoS Biol. 8, e1000485 (2010).
Hilborn, R. et al. Effective enforcement in a conservation area. Science 314, 1266 (2006).
Brockington, D., Igoe, J. & Schmidt-Soltau, K. Conservation, human rights and poverty reduction. Conserv. Biol. 20, 250–252 (2006).
Agrawal, A. & Redford, K. Conservation and displacement: an overview. Conserv. Soc. 7, 1 (2009).
Dudley, N. et al. in Partnerships for Protection: New Strategies for Planning Management for Protected Areas (Stolton, S. & Dudley, N.) 3–12 (Earthscan, 1999).
Ferraro, P. J. & Hanauer, M. M. Protecting ecosystems and alleviating poverty with parks and reserves: 'win-win' or tradeoffs? Environ. Resour. Econ. 48, 269–286 (2011).
Ferraro, P. J., Hanauer, M. M. & Sims, K. R. E. Conditions associated with protected area success in conservation and poverty reduction. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 13913–13918 (2011).
Costanza, R. et al. The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387, 253–260 (1997).
Postel, S. L. & Thompson, B. H. Watershed protection: capturing the benefits of nature's water supply services. Nat. Resour. Forum 29, 98–108 (2005).
Lubchenco, J., Palumbi, S. R., Gaines, S. D. & Andelman, S. Plugging a hole in the ocean: the emerging science of marine reserves. Ecol. Appl. 13, 3–7 (2003).
Scharlemann, J. P. et al. Securing tropical forest carbon: the contribution of protected areas to REDD. Oryx 44, 352–357 (2010).
Soares-Filho, B. et al. Role of Brazilian Amazon protected areas in climate change mitigation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 10821–10826 (2010).
Dudley, N. & Stolton, S. Running Pure: the Importance of Forest Protected Areas to Drinking Water (World Bank/WWF Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use, 2003).
International Union for Conservation of Nature. Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories (IUCN, 2008).
Noss, R. F. et al. Bolder thinking for conservation. Conserv. Biol. 26, 1–4 (2012).
Jenkins, C. N. & Joppa, L. Expansion of the global terrestrial protected area system. Biol. Conserv. 142, 2166–2174 (2009).
Eken, G. et al. Key biodiversity areas as site conservation targets. Bioscience 54, 1110–1118 (2004).
Ricketts, T. H. et al. Pinpointing and preventing imminent extinctions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 102, 18497–18501 (2005). This was the first global assessment identifying sites that hold crucial populations of an endangered or critically endangered species.
Venter, O. et al. Targeting global protected area expansion for imperiled biodiversity. PLoS Biol. 12, e1001891 (2014). This article provides an important analysis showing the shortfall of the global protected area estate in protecting threatened species with key recommendations for the CBD.
Rodrigues, A. S. L. et al. Effectiveness of the global protected area network in representing species diversity. Nature 428, 640–643 (2004).
Pressey, R. L. Ad hoc reservations: forward or backward steps in developing representative reserve systems. Conserv. Biol. 8, 662–668 (1994).
Watson, J. E. M. et al. Wilderness and future conservation priorities in Australia. Divers. Distrib. 15, 1028–1036 (2009).
Hannah, L. et al. Protected area needs in a changing climate. Front. Ecol. Environ. 5, 131–138 (2007).
Watson, J. E. M., Iwamura, T. & Butt, N. Mapping vulnerability and conservation adaptation strategies under climate change. Nature Clim. Change 3, 989–994 (2013).
Wood, L. J., Fish, L., Laughren, J. & Pauly, D. Assessing progress towards global marine protection targets: shortfalls in information and action. Oryx 42, 340–351 (2008).
Ardron, J., Gjerde, K., Pullen, S. & Tilot, V. Marine spatial planning in the high seas. Mar. Policy 32, 832–839 (2008).
Devillers, R. et al. Reinventing residual reserves in the sea: are we favouring ease of establishment over need for protection? Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/aqc.2445 (2014).
Leverington, F., Costa, K. L., Pavese, H., Lisle, A. & Hockings, M. A global analysis of protected area management effectiveness. Environ. Manage. 46, 685–698 (2010). This paper reports the first attempt at a global assessment of protected area effectiveness.
Blom, A., Yamindou, J. & Prins, H. H. T. Status of the protected areas of the Central African Republic. Biol. Conserv. 118, 479–487 (2004).
Burke, L. M., Reytar, K., Spalding, M. & Perry, A. Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle (WRI, 2012).
Clark, N. E., Boakes, E. H., McGowan, P. J. K., Mace, G. M. & Fuller, R. A. Protected areas in South Asia have not prevented habitat loss: a study using historical models of land-use change. PLoS ONE 8, e65298 (2013).
Craigie, I. D. et al. Large mammal population declines in Africa's protected areas. Biol. Conserv. 143, 2221–2228 (2010).
Riggio, J. et al. The size of savannah Africa: a lion's (Panthera leo) view. Biodivers. Conserv. 22, 17–35 (2013).
Ahmad Zafir, A. W. et al. Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis from extinction? Oryx 45, 225–233 (2011).
Maisels, F. et al. Devastating decline of forest elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE 8, e59469 (2013).
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Great Barrier Reef Region Strategic Assessment: Strategic Assessment Report http://hdl.handle.net/11017/2861 (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2014).
Brodie, J. & Waterhouse, J. A critical review of environmental management of the 'not so Great' Barrier Reef. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci. 104–105, 1–22 (2012).
Bucaram, S. J., White, J. W., Sanchirico, J. N. & Wilen, J. E. Behavior of the Galapagos fishing fleet and its consequences for the design of spatial management alternatives for the red spiny lobster fishery. Ocean Coast. Manage. 78, 88–100 (2013).
Watson, J., Trueman, M., Tufet, M., Henderson, S. & Atkinson, R. Mapping terrestrial anthropogenic degradation on the inhabited islands of the Galapagos Archipelago. Oryx 44, 79–82 (2010).
Bruner, A. G., Gullison, R. E., Rice, R. E. & da Fonseca, G. A. B. Effectiveness of parks in protecting tropical biodiversity. Science 291, 125–128 (2001). This was one of the first large-scale analyses on what makes protected areas effective in protecting biodiversity.
Convention on Biodiversity. Protected areas: Synthesis of Information in Thematic Reports on Protected Areas: Note by the Executive Secretary (CBD, 2003).
Borrini-Feyerabend, G. et al. Governance of Protected Areas: From Understanding to Action (IUCN, 2013).
Irland, L. C. State failure, corruption, and warfare: challenges for forest policy. J. Sustain. For. 27, 189–223 (2008).
Spalding, M. & McManus, E. in The Worlds Protected Areas: Status, Values and Prospects in the 21st Century (eds Chape, S., Spalding, M. & Jenkins, M.) 146–157 (Univ. California Press, 2008).
DeFries, R., Hansen, A., Newton, A. C. & Hansen, M. C. Increasing isolation of protected areas in tropical forests over the past twenty years. Ecol. Appl. 15, 19–26 (2005).
Durán, A. P., Rauch, J. & Gaston, K. J. Global spatial coincidence between protected areas and metal mining activities. Biol. Conserv. 160, 272–278 (2013).
Bovarnick, A., Fernandez-Baca, J., Galindo, J. & Negret, H. Financial Sustainability of Protected Areas in Latin America and the Caribbean: Investment Policy Guidance (The Nature Conservancy and UNDP, 2010).
Comay, L. B. National Park Service: Recent Appropriations Trends (Congressional Research Service, 2013).
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. The State of Canada's Parks 2012 (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, 2012).
Mascia, M. B. & Pailler, S. Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) and its conservation implications. Conserv. Lett. 4, 9–20 (2011). This was the first global assessment documenting instances of PADDD.
Mascia, M. B. et al. Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 1900–2010. Biol. Conserv. 169, 355–361 (2014).
Republic of Uganda. National Oil And Gas Policy For Uganda (Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, 2008).
Osti, M., Coad, L., Fisher, J. B., Bomhard, B. & Hutton, J. M. Oil and gas development in the World Heritage and wider protected area network in sub-Saharan Africa. Biodivers. Conserv. 20, 1863–1877 (2011).
Frey, B. S. & Steiner, L. World Heritage List: does it make sense? Int. J. Cult. Policy 17, 555–573 (2011).
Ritchie, E. G. et al. Continental-scale governance and the hastening of loss of Australia's biodiversity. Conserv. Biol. 27, 1133–1135 (2013).
Watkins, H., Hawkins, K. & Cormack, A. HS2: The Case for a Greener Vision (The Wildlife Trusts, 2014).
Sukumar, R. A brief review of the status, distribution and biology of wild Asian elephants Elephas maximus. Int. Zoo Yearb. 40, 1–8 (2006).
Emslie, R. & Brooks, M. African Rhino Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (ICUN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, 1999).
Le Saout, S. et al. Protected areas and effective biodiversity conservation. Science 342, 803–805 (2013).
Prieur, M. Non-regression in Environmental Law http://sapiens.revues.org/1405 (SAPIENS, 2012).
Willemen, L., Drakou, E. G., Dunbar, M. B., Mayaux, P. & Egoh, B. N. Safeguarding ecosystem services and livelihoods: understanding the impact of conservation strategies on benefit flows to society. Ecosyst. Serv. 4, 95–103 (2013).
Green, J. M. H. et al. Estimating management costs of protected areas: a novel approach from the Eastern Arc Mountains, Tanzania. Biol. Conserv. 150, 5–14 (2012).
Edwards, D. P. et al. Mining and the African environment. Conserv. Lett. 7, 302–311 (2014).
Knicley, J. E. Debt, nature, and indigenous rights: twenty-five years of debt-for-nature evolution. HELR Harvard Environ. Law Rev. 36, 79–122 (2012).
Gross-Camp, N. D., Martin, A., McGuire, S., Kebede, B. & Munyarukaza, J. Payments for ecosystem services in an African protected area: exploring issues of legitimacy, fairness, equity and effectiveness. Oryx 46, 24–33 (2012).
Steinberg, P. F. Institutional resilience amid political change: the case of biodiversity conservation. Glob. Environ. Polit. 9, 61–81 (2009).
Tulloch, A. I. T., Mustin, K., Possingham, H. P., Szabo, J. K. & Wilson, K. A. To boldly go where no volunteer has gone before: predicting volunteer activity to prioritize surveys at the landscape scale. Divers. Distrib. 19, 465–480 (2013).
Swaisgood, R. R. & Sheppard, J. K. The culture of conservation biologists: show me the hope! Bioscience 60, 626–630 (2010).
Banerjee, K., Jhala, Y. V., Chauhan, K. S. & Dave, C. V. Living with lions: the economics of coexistence in the Gir Forests, India. PLoS ONE 8, e89708 (2013).
Rastogi, A., Hickey, G. M., Badola, R. & Hussain, S. A. Saving the superstar: a review of the social factors affecting tiger conservation in India. J. Environ. Manage. 113, 328–340 (2012).
McCarthy, D. P. et al. Financial costs of meeting global biodiversity conservation targets: current spending and unmet needs. Science 338, 946–949 (2012).
Balmford, A. et al. Economic reasons for conserving wild nature. Science 297, 950–953 (2002).
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Military Expenditure http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex (SPIRI, 2014).
We thank N. Butt, M. Callow, T. Evans, M. Giampieri, J. Hilty, K. MacKinnon, T. McClanahan, M. Rao, E. Sanderson, T. Stevens, S. Stolton, K. Redford, J. Robinson, J. Walston and S. Woodley for their thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We thank B. MacSharry for supplying the latest WDPA protected area data and many colleagues within the IUCN WCPA who have provided information and advice. Because of the reference limitations for this Review, we recognize that many important references have not been cited.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints.
About this article
Cite this article
Watson, J., Dudley, N., Segan, D. et al. The performance and potential of protected areas. Nature 515, 67–73 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13947
This article is cited by
Biodiversity and Conservation (2023)
A perspective on biodiversity data and applications for spatio-temporally robust spatial planning for area-based conservation
Discover Sustainability (2023)
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2022)
Nature Communications (2022)