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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Jun 7;275(1640):1261-70. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1732.

Future battlegrounds for conservation under global change.

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  • 1Ecology, Behavior and Evolution Section, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0116, USA.


Global biodiversity is under significant threat from the combined effects of human-induced climate and land-use change. Covering 12% of the Earth's terrestrial surface, protected areas are crucial for conserving biodiversity and supporting ecological processes beneficial to human well-being, but their selection and design are usually uninformed about future global change. Here, we quantify the exposure of the global reserve network to projected climate and land-use change according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and set these threats in relation to the conservation value and capacity of biogeographic and geopolitical regions. We find that geographical patterns of past human impact on the land cover only poorly predict those of forecasted change, thus revealing the inadequacy of existing global conservation prioritization templates. Projected conservation risk, measured as regional levels of land-cover change in relation to area protected, is the greatest at high latitudes (due to climate change) and tropics/subtropics (due to land-use change). Only some high-latitude nations prone to high conservation risk are also of high conservation value, but their high relative wealth may facilitate additional conservation efforts. In contrast, most low-latitude nations tend to be of high conservation value, but they often have limited capacity for conservation which may exacerbate the global biodiversity extinction crisis. While our approach will clearly benefit from improved land-cover projections and a thorough understanding of how species range will shift under climate change, our results provide a first global quantitative demonstration of the urgent need to consider future environmental change in reserve-based conservation planning. They further highlight the pressing need for new reserves in target regions and support a much extended 'north-south' transfer of conservation resources that maximizes biodiversity conservation while mitigating global climate change.

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