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Assessing protected area effectiveness using surrounding (buffer) areas environmentally similar to the target area


Many studies are based on the assumption that an area and its surrounding (buffer) area present similar environmental conditions and can be compared. For example, in order to assess the effectiveness of a protected area, the land use/cover changes are compared inside the park with its surroundings. However, the heterogeneity in spatial variables can bias this assessment: we have shown that most of the protected areas in Mexico present significant environmental differences between their interior and their surroundings. Therefore, a comparison that aims at assessing the effectiveness of conservation strategies, must be cautioned. In this paper, a simple method which allows the generation of a buffer area that presents similar conditions with respect to a set of environmental variables is presented. The method was used in order to assess the effectiveness of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a protected area located in the south-eastern part of Mexico. The annual rate of deforestation inside the protected area, the standard buffer area (based upon distance from the protected area only) and the similar buffer area (taking into account distance along with some environmental variables) were 0.3, 1.3 and 0.6%, respectively. These results showed that the protected area was effective in preventing land clearing, but that the comparison with the standard buffer area gave an over-optimistic vision of its effectiveness.

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Correspondence to Jean-François Mas.

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Mas, JF. Assessing protected area effectiveness using surrounding (buffer) areas environmentally similar to the target area. Environ Monit Assess 105, 69–80 (2005).

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  • buffer areas
  • change assessment
  • GIS
  • Mexico
  • protected area effectiveness
  • spatial heterogeneity