Conservation planning is carried out on a variety of geopolitical and biogeographical scales. Whereas considerable consensus is emerging about the most appropriate procedures for identifying conservation areas, the spatial implications of conducting conservation planning at divergent scales have received little attention. Here we explore the consequences of planning at different geopolitical scales, using a database of the mammalian fauna from the Northern Provinces of South Africa. The conservation network resulting from treating the region as one unit is compared with networks generated separately for the provinces nested in that region. These outcomes are evaluated in terms of (i) their land use efficiencies, (ii) their spatial overlap, and (iii) the impact of algorithm attributes. Although land use efficiencies are greater on broader scales, on average the spatial congruence between the broad-scale regional network and fine-scale provincial networks was less than 14%. Algorithms using different selection rules fail to improve this disturbing outcome. Consequently, scale has an overwhelming influence on areas identified as conservation networks in geopolitical units. This should be recognized in conservation planning
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