Environmental Management

, Volume 63, Issue 6, pp 777–788 | Cite as

Effects of Protected Area Size on Conservation Return on Investment

  • Seong-Hoon ChoEmail author
  • Kristen Thiel
  • Paul R. Armsworth
  • Bijay P. Sharma


The objective of this research is to examine how protected area size influences the conservation benefit and acquisition cost of creating a protected area, how the resulting effects influence the predicted rate of return on investment (ROI), and how those relationships change prioritization decision-making for selecting protected areas compared with decisions based only on conservation benefit and decisions based only on acquisition cost. The objective is accomplished in an econometric framework by analyzing the parcel-level acquisition cost and conservation benefit measured by the change in potential fragmentation patterns on the landscape resulting from protection. We focus on areas acquired by The Nature Conservancy in central and southern Appalachia, United States. As an indicator of the change in landscape fragmentation, we use a fragmentation statistic known as effective mesh size. Although the effect of protected parcel size on predicted ROI is inelastic, greater conservation effectiveness is obtained with larger protected parcels than with smaller ones on average. Protected parcel size influences parcels’ rankings for protection more (less) when only the predicted change in effective mesh size of protected area (only the predicted acquisition cost per area) is used for prioritizing parcels than when the ranking of parcels is determined by the predicted ROI. These findings imply that, although protected parcel size is important, failure to prioritize using ROI could result in an inappropriate level of emphasis being given to protected parcel size than is warranted.


Protected area Conservation return on investment Effective mesh size Acquisition cost Economies of scale with area size 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with funding (Award 1211142) through the project entitled, “CNH-Ex: The Influence of the Size of Protected Areas on Their Ecological and Economic Effectiveness” and the Multistate Project (W4133) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the project entitled, “Costs and Benefits of Natural Resources on Public and Private Lands: Management, Economic Valuation, and Integrated Decision-Making.” We extend our sincere gratitude to Bradley Wilson for his ArcGIS advice and guidance. Data sources and preparation protocols for the geophysical, socioeconomic characteristics, and distance-related variables followed Kim et al. (2014). Collection protocols for landscape data for calculating effective mesh size were created by Heather Jackson (unpublished results). Data to create target species richness were obtained from Sutton and Armsworth (2014).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

267_2019_1164_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary Material.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Seong-Hoon Cho
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristen Thiel
    • 2
  • Paul R. Armsworth
    • 3
  • Bijay P. Sharma
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural and Resource EconomicsThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.United States Census BureauWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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