An Assessment of the Representation of Ecosystems in Global Protected Areas Using New Maps of World Climate Regions and World Ecosystems


Representation of ecosystems in protected area networks and conservation strategies is a core principle of global conservation priority setting approaches and a commitment in Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly call for the conservation of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. Accurate ecosystem distribution maps are required to assess representation of ecosystems in protected areas, but standardized, high spatial resolution, and globally comprehensive ecosystem maps have heretofore been lacking. While macroscale global ecoregions maps have been used in global conservation priority setting exercises, they do not identify distinct localized ecosystems at the occurrence (patch) level, and instead describe large ecologically meaningful areas within which additional conservation planning and management are necessary. We describe a new set of maps of globally consistent climate regions and ecosystems at a much finer spatial resolution (250 m) than existing ecological regionalizations. We then describe a global gap analysis of the representation of these ecosystems in protected areas. The new map of terrestrial World Ecosystems was derived from the objective development and integration of 1) global temperature domains, 2) global moisture domains, 3) global landforms, and 4) 2015 global vegetation and land use. These new terrestrial World Ecosystems do not include either freshwater or marine ecosystems, but analog products for the freshwater and marine domains are in development. A total of 431 World Ecosystems were identified, and of these a total of 278 units were natural or semi-natural vegetation/environment combinations, including different kinds of forestlands, shrublands, grasslands, bare areas, and ice/snow regions. The remaining classes were different kinds of croplands and settlements. Of the 278 natural and semi-natural classes, 9 were not represented in global protected areas with a strict biodiversity conservation management objective (IUCN management categories I-IV), and an additional 206 were less than 8.5% protected (half way to the 17% Aichi Target 11 goal). Forty four classes were between 8.5% and 17% protected (more than half way towards the Aichi 17% target), and only 19 classes exceeded the 17% Aichi target. However, when all protected areas (IUCN management categories I-VI plus protected areas with no IUCN designation) were included in a separate global gap analysis, representation of ecosystems increases substantially, with a third of the ecosystems exceeding the 17% Aichi target, and another third between 8.5% and 17%. The overall protection (representation) of global ecosystems in protected areas is considerably less when assessed using only strictly conserved protected areas, and more if all protected areas are included in the analysis. Protected area effectiveness should be included in further evaluations of global ecosystem protection. The ecosystems with the highest representation in protected areas were often bare or sparsely vegetated and found in inhospitable environments (e.g. cold mountains, deserts), and the eight most protected ecosystems were all snow and ice ecosystems. In addition to the global gap analysis of World Ecosystems in protected areas, we report on the representation results for the ecosystems in each biogeographic realm (Neotropical, Nearctic, Afrotropical, Palearctic, Indomalayan, Australasian, and Oceania)

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This paper was published in University of Redlands.

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