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Effectiveness of protected areas influenced by socio-economic context


Protected area (PA) performance is thought to depend on effective conservation management and favourable socio-economic context. However, increasing evidence of continued biodiversity decline within PAs raises the question of whether fundamental ecological and socio-economic constraints might actually affect PA effectiveness. Here we quantify how threats to biodiversity, socio-economic context and conservation efforts play out across 114 PAs in 25 European and African countries. We found that even in the presence of highly favourable socio-economic context and conservation efforts, it is not possible to completely offset the intensity of threats and prevent biodiversity decline. Projections show that halting biodiversity decline across the studied PA network may require at least a 35% increase in conservation efforts over a decade. However, as PAs approach zero biodiversity loss, even greater efforts and resources would be needed because of the principle of diminishing marginal returns. Our findings point to limited effectiveness of PAs and their management that might not be possible to address by simply increasing resources. Additionally, the adoption of core design principles of sustainable systems that take into account the social–ecological contexts of PAs could help overcome the observed hurdles of limited effectiveness and thus better integrate PAs into sustainable development efforts.

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Fig. 1: Map of PAs included and their respective countries.
Fig. 2: Changing abundance of mammals and birds across the PA network.
Fig. 3: The influence of socio-economic context and conservation effort on threats to PAs.
Fig. 4: Interaction effects of predictors of biodiversity change across the PA network.

Data availability

The full datasets generated as part of this study are not publicly available due to sensitivity and confidentiality of information but are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request. However, the minimum datasets required for replicating and interpreting this study are available in the Supplementary Information.

Code availability

The R code used for data analyses in this study is available as supplementary information.


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Our gratitude goes to all PA managers who participated in our survey and filled in our questionnaire (full list of PAs is given in Supplementary Information). We are also grateful to those who participated in the non-governmental organization survey and filled in our questionnaire: Z. Záborská (Regional Tourism Organization Slovenský raj & Spiš), K. Kaliský (Arolla Film), Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK (a WOLF Forest Protection Movement), V. Bartuš (WOLF Forest Protection Movement, Eastern Carpathians tribe), Hnutí DUHA Olomouc (an environmental movement in Czech Republic), T.P. Kneževi (World Wildlife Fund Poland, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas), New Horizons Foundation (Romania), O. Ionescu (Transylvania University), F. Stoican (Asociatia Kogayon), A. Szabo (Asociatia Euroland Banat), Asociatia Salvati flora si fauna Deltei Dunarii, Propark-Fundatia pentru Arii Protejate, J. Kouassi, Y. Kablan, E. Danquah (Department of Wildlife and Range Management, Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana), A. Samuel and the Conservation Through Public Health Conservation Through Public Health. We also would like to thank A. Bohdan, S. Bunel, H. Chamkhi, M. Duskova, V. Kandza, E. Mbaygone, N. Moses, T.F. Neba, I.O. Németh, P. Sabo, C. Tweh, A. Vaidos, M. Wambui and others for their support in collecting the data. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support obtained for the study from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) (DFG FZT 118, 202548816; T.T.G. and H.S.K.) and the Robert Bosch Foundation (grant number 32.5.8043.0016.0; H.S.K.).

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors equally contributed to the paper. T.T.G., L.K., M.B., A.B., L.B., D.E., A.F., S.H., M.H., K.W., M.W., T.S. and H.S.K. conceptualized the study and carried out initial planning. L.K. carried out the statistical analysis and was supported by T.T.G. and H.S.K. The first draft was prepared by T.T.G. and H.S.K., which was revised by L.K., M.B., A.B., L.B., D.E., A.F., S.H., M.H., K.W., M.W. and T.S. All authors reviewed and contributed to a final draft and revised versions and approved the final version for publication.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Tsegaye T. Gatiso or Hjalmar S. Kühl.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Donald DeAngelis, Stephen Woodley and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9 and Tables 1–8.

Reporting Summary.

Supplementary Data 1

This file contains all the data used for running the different models of this study.

Supplementary Software 1

This file contains the R script for data analyses of this study.

Supplementary Software 2

This file contains the R image for this study.

Supplementary Note 1

This file contains the questionnaire used for the study in Africa.

Supplementary Note 2

This file contains the questionnaire used for the study in Europe.

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Gatiso, T.T., Kulik, L., Bachmann, M. et al. Effectiveness of protected areas influenced by socio-economic context. Nat Sustain 5, 861–868 (2022).

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