A recent JRC study reveals that from 2010 to 2018, countries made significant efforts in shifting their national biodiversity conservation strategies in favor of more and better connected protected area systems, in line with the Aichi Target 11.
Connecting protected areas
A global ‘well-connected’ protected area (PA) system of 17% of the Earth's terrestrial surface is key to achieving Aichi Target 11, one of the global biodiversity conservation goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for 2020.
Keeping landscapes connected via habitat linkages or corridors maintains long-term ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change and provides “escape routes” for plants and animals to relocate when their habitats are no longer viable.
In the past decade, world countries and a number of organisations worldwide became active in the field of science-based mapping and analysis of connectivity (providing free access to data, maps and resources on connectivity) and engaged in large transnational projects, requiring coordinated efforts for managing not only country-wide, but also transboundary protected area networks.
A well-known example of a successful cross-country project is Natura 2000, a network of sites and habitats, which are protected within the EU territory.
Beyond Europe, it is worth mentioning the eight country-wide Andes-Amazon-Atlantic (AAA) Corridor project, the Kangchenjunga Landscape in Buthan, India and Nepal, and the Teraic Arc Landscape (shared by Nepal and India), the latter gathering some of the most important transboundary landscapes in the Himalayas.
The JRC ‘ProtConn’ study
In the context of its work on the Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA), the JRC developed in 2018 the ‘ProtConn indicator’ to monitor, map and assess the presence and extent of ecological corridors between protected areas (PAs). Based on the information available in the World Database for Protected Areas from the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the ProtConn indicator produced the first snapshot of PA connectivity at the global level for 2016 at the country, regional and global level.
A more recent JRC publication provides the first global assessment of trends in connectivity over time, taking into account trends in each country from 2010 to 2018.
This work shows, for each country, not only the extent PA to which systems are well designed to support connectivity, but also to which extent national strategic priorities have shifted in the past 9 years to address the issue of connectivity, thereby revealing how effectively countries have adjusted their PA designation strategies to meet the Aichi target 11.
The indicator acknowledges that the amount of protected connected lands in a country may increase in two ways:
- first, through the designation of larger PAs, even if this results in a single PA that encompasses several previously smaller and well inter-connected PAs;
- second, through more numerous and/or stronger connections between different PAs.
What the global assessment revealed
Overall, results show positive trends in the majority of world regions. But a significant global gap still exists between the Aichi target 11 for 2020 and the current global situation: whilst the number of countries that have met Aichi target 11 almost doubled in 2018 compared to 2010, still only 14% of the global land surface is well connected (it should be 17% by 2020).
Oceania and Europe, particularly Southern Europe, experienced the largest increase in PA connectivity between 2010 and 2018 (for details on how the ‘ProtConn’ indicator is calculated, and for detailed results at the country-level, read the paper here).
Countries such as Argentina, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo improved significantly, but are still a long way off meeting the target.
“The most important message that this study reveals is the ‘permeability’ of the (unprotected) landscape among PAs, a value that increased between 2010 and 2018” says lead author Santiago Saura.
“It shows that the newly declared PAs played a significant role as corridors or stepping stones between existing PAs: this means that countries were aware of the importance of connecting adjacent PAs and took connectivity into account in the designation of new PAs.”
“In Tanzania, where ProtConn increased from 16.4% in 2010 to 21.6% in 2018, for instance, protection gains are remarkable, as you can see from the map”.
Grégoire Dubois, another of the JRC researchers involved, added: “The good news is that countries focused more on connecting adjacent PAs, regardless of their different designations”.
“Moreover, some territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities (called 'Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures'
) greatly help enhance global connectivity. So far, this study does not consider them, but we expect their contribution to significantly increase the values we calculated“.
Further research will extend the application of the “ProtConn” methodology to the marine realm, for instance, to evaluate seascape connectivity, or to integrate into the ProtConn (or related indicators) biophysical models that account for ocean circulation patterns.
From a political point of view, the year 2020 is fastly approaching. “Still many countries have to undertake significant efforts to hit the Aichi Target 11” says Grégoire “But our findings and the PA connectivity approach are likely to remain relevant even after 2020, and can be further improved with the support of regionally tailored strategies. The BIOPAMA programme, which the JRC is implementing jointly with the IUCN in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, goes in this direction” he concludes.
Global Trends in protected area connectivity from 2010 to 2018
Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA)
Conserving our biodiversity: priorities for well-connected protected areas
Halting the isolation of jaguars: where to act locally to sustain connectivity in their southernmost population
Biodiversity and Protected Area Management (BIOPAMA)