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Very large protected areas preserve wilderness but ignore rare species

Protected areas are generally seen as a triumph for the preservation of nature, yet the reality on the ground is more complex.

The world's largest protected areas encompass vast amounts of wilderness but do not extensively overlap the highest priority areas for conservation or include unusually large numbers of birds, amphibians, or mammals, according to an analysis published in the November issue of BioScience.

The study, by Lisette Cantú-Salazar and Kevin J. Gaston of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, nonetheless describes anecdotal evidence that some very large protected areas play an important conservation role, by preserving natural species assemblages and populations of regional concern.

Cantú-Salazar and Gaston examined in detail the 63 protected areas that each extend over 25,000 square kilometers or more (about the area of Vermont). These huge areas are found in all continents except Antarctica, and are preferentially found in areas where there are few people. The findings thus seem to support the idea that such areas are created in places where they will least inconvenience people, rather than where they would do the most for conservation.

Yet very large protected areas are also likely to include particular land-cover types, such as snow and ice, bare areas, and areas with sparse vegetation. Examination of individual cases reveals that several ecoregions of high conservation priority are partly included in very large protected areas, including the Guianan Highlands Moist Forests, the Tibetan Plateau Steppe, and the Eastern Himalayan Alpine Meadows. Their preservation is therefore important. And many of the largest protected areas are vulnerable, Cantú-Salazar and Gaston conclude. Some have inadequate management. Others are threatened by incursions for logging, fishing, grazing, and mining, and the effects of climate change and political instability.

By noon EST on 1 November 2010 and until early December, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this press release available at

BioScience, published 11 times per year, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the November 2010 issue of BioScience is as follows:

Estimation of Light-use Efficiency of Terrestrial Ecosystems from Space: A Status Report by Nicholas C. Coops, Thomas Hilker, Forrest Hall, Caroline Nichol, and Guillaume Drolet

A Global Assessment of Amphibian Taxonomic Effort and Expertise by Ana S. L. Rodrigues, Claudia L. Gray, Ben J. Crowter, Robert M. Ewers, Simon N. Stuart, Tony Whitten, and Andrea Manica

Very Large Protected Areas and Their Contribution to Terrestrial Biological Conservation by Lisette Cantú-Salazar and Kevin J. Gaston

A Review of Ocean Acidification and America's Response by Cheryl A. Logan

Strong Site Fidelity and a Variety of Imaging Techniques Reveal Around-the-clock and Extended Activity Patterns in Crawfish Frogs (Lithobates areolatus) by Andrew S. Hoffman, Jennifer L. Heemeyer, Perry J. Williams, Joseph R. Robb, Daryl R. Karns, Vanessa C. Kinney, Nathan J. Engbrecht, and Michael J. Lannoo

From Publications to Public Action: When Conservation Biologists Bridge the Gap between Research and Action by Raphaël Arlettaz, Michael Schaub, Jérôme Fournier, Thomas S. Reichlin, Antoine Sierro, James E. M. Watson, and Veronika Braunisch

Science, Policy, and Species at Risk in Canada by Arne O. Mooers, Dan F. Doak, C. Scott Findlay, David M. Green, Chris Grouios, Azadeh Rashvand, Lisa M. Manne, Murray A. Rudd, and Jeannette Whitton

Timothy M. Beardsley | EurekAlert!
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