Connectivity and climate adaptability for protected area networks

Global protected areasProtected area networks are one of the major conservation strategies to preserve biodiversity within increasingly fragmented land- and seascapes.  They allow individuals to persist even when surrounded by an inhospitable matrix, and can provide connectivity between patches of good habitat. Protected areas span the globe, both within national boundaries and across them, and research into their effectiveness often leads to surprising results about how they function and how well-adapted they are to the future.

For example, a recent study ran a global assessment of how well-connected terrestrial protected areas are, and how that connectivity has changed over time. Using data from 2010-2018, protected areas were assessed using the ProtConn indicator to quantify the amount, and change in amount, of “reachable” land in each country.  This can give a good indication of how well the international conservation community is doing toward reaching Aichi Target 11, which states that 17% of land should be under well-connected protected area systems by 2020.

The assessment reveals that the global protected area system is better designed for connectivity now than it was in 2010: the percentage of protected and connected areas rose from 6.5% in 2010 to 7.7% in 2018 (with an even higher peak in 2014). Oceania saw the greatest increase in protected area connectivity, while Asia was the only continent that showed a decrease. Although the global percentage is short of the Aichi Target 11 goal of 17%, many opportunities exist for increased connectivity in protected area networks, particularly in connecting lands across international borders.

Brazil protected areas UNEP-WCMC

Protected area network in Brazil. (UNEP-WCMC)

Many countries already support large protected area networks, notably Brazil. With 3.7 million km2 of protected land that supports 4.5 million people, Brazil holds the largest expanse of tropical ecosystems within protected areas for both native biodiversity and indigenous culture. However, this extensive network is subject to climate change and high rates of deforestation, especially in Amazonia where over half of protected areas are located.

A study of almost 1,000 terrestrial and coastal-marine Brazilian protected areas estimated the vulnerability of these regions and recommends adaptation strategies that ensure the protected areas will persist into the future. This type of assessment not only quantifies vulnerability to climate change, but also provides concrete recommendations for managers on how to prioritize actions in protected areas.

Maintaining protected areas across the globe in the face of climate change remains a major challenge. Most protected areas have static locations, while climate change demands a dynamic response due to regularly shifting habitats. One novel approach to dealing with this issue suggests integrating permanent protected areas with temporary conservation areas, thus creating a flexible network that can be useful in highly human-modified and fragmented landscapes. This makes reaching Aichi Target 11 goals more feasible and sustainable over the long term.  When it comes to global conservation goals, connectivity and adaptation to climate change will be crucial to maintaining an effective global protected area system.


Saura, S., Bertzky, B., Bastin, L., Battistella, L., Mandrici, A. and Dubois, G. 2019. Global trends in protected area connectivity from 2010 to 2018. Biological Conservation 238: 108183.

Thornton, D., Branch, L. and Murray, D. 2019. Distribution and connectivity of protected areas in the Americas facilitates transboundary conservation. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.2027.

Lapola, D.M., da Silva, J.M.C., Braga, D.R., Carpigiani, L., Ogawa, F., Torres, R.R., Barbosa, L.C., Ometto, J.P. and Joly, C.A. 2019. A climate‐change vulnerability and adaptation assessment for Brazil’s protected areas. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13405.

D’Aloia, C., Naujokaitis-Lewis, I., Blackford, C., Chu, C., Curtis, J., Darling, E., Guichard, F., Leroux, S.J., Martensen, A.C., Rayfield, B. and Sunday, J. 2019. Coupled networks of permanent protected areas and dynamic conservation areas for biodiversity conservation under climate change. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, p.27.

How well designed for connectivity are protected area systems around the globe? (January 2018)


2019-12-03T17:41:54-05:00 November 15th, 2019|

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.