Ongoing deforestation poses a major threat to biodiversity1,2. With limited resources and imminent threats, deciding when as well as where to conserve is a fundamental question. Here we use a dynamic optimization approach to identify an optimal sequence for the conservation of plant species in 458 forested ecoregions globally over the next 50 years. The optimization approach includes species richness in each forested ecoregion, complementarity of species across ecoregions, costs of conservation that rise with cumulative protection in an ecoregion, the existing degree of protection, the rate of deforestation and the potential for reforestation in each ecoregion. The optimal conservation strategy for this formulation initially targets a small number of ecoregions where further deforestation leads to large reductions in species and where the costs of conservation are low. In later years, conservation efforts spread to more ecoregions, and invest in both expanded protection of primary forest and reforestation. The largest gains in species conservation come in Melanesia, South and Southeast Asia, the Anatolian peninsula, northern South America and Central America. The results highlight the potentially large gains in conservation that can be made with carefully targeted investments.
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We thank P. Armsworth, M. Burgman and members of his laboratory group, J. Fargione, E. Game, K. Helmstedt and G. Iacona for their comments on the manuscript; S. Andelman, J. Bielecki, M. Bode and H. Possingham for early discussions and development of the ideas; and J. Smith for help on addressing species complementarity.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Luby, I.H., Miller, S.J. & Polasky, S. When and where to protect forests. Nature 609, 89–93 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05096-z