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PLoS One. 2014 Nov 21;9(11):e113648. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113648. eCollection 2014.

Species, habitats, society: an evaluation of research supporting EU's Natura 2000 network.

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Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; Centre for Environmental Research (CCMESI), University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania.
Centre for Environmental Research (CCMESI), University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania.
Department of Environmental Studies, Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.


The Natura 2000 network is regarded as one of the conservation success stories in the global effort to protect biodiversity. However, significant challenges remain in Natura 2000 implementation, owing to its rapid expansion, and lack of a coherent vision for its future. Scientific research is critical for identifying conservation priorities, setting management goals, and reconciling biodiversity protection and society in the complex political European landscape. Thus, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive evaluation of published Natura 2000 research to highlight prevalent research themes, disciplinary approaches, and spatial entities. We conducted a systematic review of 572 scientific articles and conference proceedings focused on Natura 2000 research, published between 1996 and 2014. We grouped these articles into 'ecological' and 'social and policy' categories. Using a novel application of network analysis of article keywords, we found that Natura 2000 research forms a cohesive small-world network, owing to the emphasis on ecological research (79% of studies, with a strong focus on spatial conservation planning), and the underrepresentation of studies addressing 'social and policy' issues (typically focused on environmental impact assessment, multi-level governance, agri-environment policy, and ecosystem services valuation). 'Ecological' and 'social and policy' research shared only general concepts (e.g., Natura 2000, Habitats Directive) suggesting a disconnection between these disciplines. The UK and the Mediterranean basin countries dominated Natura 2000 research, and there was a weak correlation between number of studies and proportion of national territory protected. Approximately 40% of 'social and policy' research and 26% of 'ecological' studies highlighted negative implications of Natura 2000, while 21% of studies found positive social and biodiversity effects. We emphasize the need for designing inter- and transdisciplinary research in order to promote a social-ecological understanding of Natura 2000, and advance EU conservation policies.

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