Are protected area networks enough to conserve biodiversity?

baobo_mapA common strategy to mitigate the loss of biodiversity is to create a system of protected areas that connect high quality habitat for critical species.  But given the potential ability of climate change to alter the landscape, are these protected area networks going to remain effective in the future?  Several studies have begun to examine this critical question, including a recent one by Vieilledent and colleagues in Biological Conservation that focuses on climate change in southern tropical latitudes. Madagascar, a global biodiversity hotspot, supports numerous endemic, endangered species.  Approximately 10% of the country is covered by a protected area network. However, the combination of altered land use (over-harvesting of wood and conversion of tropical forest habitat to agricultural development) and climate change has the potential to cause great shifts in species distributions.

The authors focused their measure of biodiversity around three species of baobab trees, which are endemic to Madagascar and have difficultly dispersing and regenerating.  By combining current presence-absence data of individual trees along with climate change models, the authors were able to predict the likely future distributions of all three species.  They also measured the likely evolution of the connectivity between protected patches of suitable habitat. While climate change will affect each species to different degrees, they came to the overall conclusion that the protected area network in Madagascar will not be effective to conserve species under climate change mainly because the protected area network will not overlap future species distribution.  Even spatially adapting the design to potential future species distribution areas will probably not be sufficient for future biodiversity conservation.  This is in contrast to a recent finding by Mazaris et al. (PLos ONE 2013), who determined that the protected area network in Europe (Natura 2000) will likely be sufficient to protect several species under climate change.  The authors recommend that ecological restoration be considered as a conservation strategy to help mitigate the shortcomings of creating a static protected area network.


Vieilledent, G., C. Cornu, A. Cuní Sanchez, J.-M. Leong Pock-Tsy, and P. Danthu. 2013. Vulnerability of baobab species to climate change and effectiveness of the protected area network in Madagascar: towards new conservation priorities.  Biological Conservation 166: 11-22.

Assessing future connectivity of a large-scale protected network (January 2014)
Related  publications:

Araujo, M. B., D. Alagador, M. Cabeza, D. Nogues-Bravo, and W. Thuiller. 2011. Climate change threatens European conservation areas. Ecology Letters 14: 484-492.

Coetzee, B. W. T., M. P. Robertson, B. F. N. Erasmus, B. J. Van Rensburg, and W. Thuiller. 2009. Ensemble models predict important bird areas in southerna Africa will be lesseffective for conserving endemic birds under climate change. Global Ecology and Biogeography 18: 701-710.

Hole, D. G., B. Huntley, J. Arinaitwe, S. H. M. Butchart, Y. C. Collingham, L. D. C. Fishpool, D. J. Pain, and S. G. Willis. 2011. Toward a management framework for networks of protected areas in the face of climate change. Conservation Biology 25: 305-315.

2016-10-14T10:10:53-04:00 March 24th, 2014|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton
Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of and a Research Assistant at Michigan State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent over 10 years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.