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Larger gains from improved management over sparing–sharing for tropical forests


Tropical forests are globally important for both biodiversity conservation and the production of economically valuable wood products. To deliver both simultaneously, two contrasting approaches have been suggested: one partitions forests (sparing); the other integrates both objectives in the same location (sharing). To date, the ‘sparing or sharing’ debate has focused on agricultural landscapes, with scant attention paid to forest management. We explore the delivery of biodiversity and wood products in a continuum of sparing-to-sharing scenarios, using spatial optimization with set economic returns in East Kalimantan, Indonesia—a biodiversity hotspot. We found that neither sparing nor sharing extremes are optimal, although the greatest conservation value was attained towards the sparing end of the continuum. Critically, improved management strategies, such as reduced-impact logging, provided larger conservation gains than altering the balance between sparing and sharing, particularly for endangered species. Ultimately, debating sparing versus sharing has limited value while larger gains remain from improving forest management.

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Fig. 1: The context of the study.
Fig. 2: Spatial sparing and sharing scenarios.
Fig. 3: Optimal sparing or sharing strategies.
Fig. 4: The sparing-to-sharing continuum for different taxa and IUCN red list categories when either allowing improved management (red) or constraining the problem to conventional management types (blue).
Fig. 5: Contribution to the optimal objective value from improved management and sparing/sharing strategies across the range of conservation objectives.

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Code availability

We formulated the integer linear programming problem using the R programming language63 and solved it using the software Gurobi64. The R code is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Data availability

The data sets analysed in this paper are available via


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This research was supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant no. DP160101397. Support was also provided by funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara ( F.A.A.K was supported by a Niche Research Grant Scheme, grant no. NRGS/1087/2–13(01). We would like to thank A. Klassen, C. Romero, N. Wolff and all members of the SNAPP Forest Sparing or Sharing team for useful discussions.

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B.G., O.V., R.K.R., E.T.G., Z.B., F.E.P., R., J.A.W., P.E., S.M.L. and M.S. conceptualized the manuscript. R.K.R., R., M.J.S., M.S. and J.A.W. developed the spatial data inputs. R.K.R. led the expert elicitation with input from E.M., M.J.S., O.V., N.J.D., A.W., E.T.G., S.M.C., M.S., A.J.M., B.G., F.A.A.K., M.A. and Z.B.. R.K.R. conducted the analyses. All authors interpreted the results and contributed to writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Rebecca K. Runting.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–9, Supplementary Figs. 1–5, Supplementary Results, Supplementary References 1–33

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Runting, R.K., Ruslandi, Griscom, B.W. et al. Larger gains from improved management over sparing–sharing for tropical forests. Nat Sustain 2, 53–61 (2019).

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