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Strictly protected areas are not necessarily more effective than areas in which multiple human uses are permitted


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies protected areas into six categories, ranging from strict nature reserves to areas where multiple human uses are permitted. In the past, many researchers have questioned the effectiveness of multiple-use areas, fueling an unresolved debate regarding their conservation value. The literature so far has been inconclusive: although several studies have found that strictly protected areas are more effective, others have found the opposite, and yet others that the two types do not differ. To help resolve this debate, we reviewed the literature on protected areas and conducted our own analysis using > 19 000 terrestrial protected areas worldwide. We found that the differences between strictly protected areas and areas in which multiple human uses are permitted are often small and not statistically significant. Although the effectiveness of protected areas worldwide varies, other factors, besides their assigned IUCN category, are likely to be driving this pattern.

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We are thankful to the researchers at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-WCMC) for the data on protected areas, to Oscar Venter and colleagues for the data on human footprint, and to Matias Heino and colleagues for the data on forest cover. We are also thankful to the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) for the World Cities dataset and to Giuseppe Amatulli and colleagues for the topographical data. Lastly, we are thankful to the four anonymous reviewers for their positive and constructive feedback.

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Correspondence to Christos Mammides.

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Elleason, M., Guan, Z., Deng, Y. et al. Strictly protected areas are not necessarily more effective than areas in which multiple human uses are permitted. Ambio 50, 1058–1073 (2021).

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  • Aichi Biodiversity Target 11
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Deforestation
  • Human footprint index
  • Protected planet