October, 2021: This article, which I wrote pro bono, was chosen to the Editors’ Choice collection and made freely available for all!
Tropical forests are unique environments that have huge species diversity and also act as important reservoirs of organic carbon, thereby counteracting climate change. However, their area is diminishing due to deforestation, which gives reason to worry both about the survival of this biodiversity and about the increasing carbon emissions. As a result, it is important to investigate how well conservation areas succeed in safeguarding tropical forests.
In my first published research article, we estimated how well individual protected areas (PA) avoided deforestation and carbon emissions in the State of Acre, Brazil. We compared differences in impact (avoided deforestation) between broad protection categories and between individual PAs and found substantial variation in the impact of individual PAs, ranging from avoided deforestation equal to 3.6% of the protected forest area to induced deforestation equal to 15.6% of the protected forest area, compared to expected levels of deforestation.
Figure – Study area and main results. The graph shows how the research revealed substantial variation in the impacts of individual protected areas within each protection category. The average impact over all areas, and within each category, was positive.
Great variation also existed in avoided emissions, with larger PAs generally avoiding more emissions within each protection category. The total emissions avoided by all PAs in Acre each year were equal to the annual emissions of around 122,575 Europeans. In comparison, in our study area and during our study period, we did not detect differences in impact between the broad PA categories, due to uniform pressures.
It is important to emphasise that this does not mean that no differences exist among broad categories. In fact, differences exist and have been observed by previous research. However, we demonstrate that the individual-level variation among PAs must be considered, cautioning against only using broad categories when evaluating PA impact, particularly at the state level.
This is an important message, because in Amazonia and beyond, PA impact studies have so far primarily focused either on the overall average impact of protection at national to global scales or on the comparative impact of broad PA categories. When impact estimates can be compared at the level of individual PAs, management practices can be better optimized to achieve conservation goals. We call on more individual-level estimates to be done not only in Amazonia, but also in other deforestation fronts globally.
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