The connectivity of protected areas (PAs) refers to the possibility of animal species, and of the genes and seeds that they carry, to move from one protected site – for instance a Natura 2000 site or a national park – to another. This connectivity is essential for the preservation of healthy ecosystems with a high species richness and genetic diversity, for the delivery of ecosystem services from natural habitats, and for the adaptation of species to climate and land use changes.
In the EU, PA connectivity is an important objective of the Green Infrastructure Strategy, where PAs such as Natura 2000 sites form the backbone of the broader EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020. In 2010, the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, including all EU countries, adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for 2011-2020, which includes twenty Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Under Aichi Target 11, the international community agrees that by 2020 at least 17% of terrestrial areas will be conserved through well-connected systems of protected areas. However, until now there was no indicator or quantitative criterion that could be used to track progress towards this target.
The new indicator developed by JRC scientists, called Protected Connected (ProtConn), quantifies the percentage of a region covered by protected connected lands, and differentiates several categories of land (unprotected, protected or transboundary) through which movement between protected locations may occur. Using this indicator, the scientists assessed the connectivity of PAs for all terrestrial ecoregions in the world.
Protected Connected land (% of ecoregion area) for all the world’s terrestrial ecoregions as of June 2016.
The indicator shows that there is wide variety in the connectivity of PAs across ecoregions. Only about one third of the world’s ecoregions currently meet the Aichi Target of having 17% of the terrestrial realm covered by well-connected systems of PAs. While 14.7% of the world’s land is covered by PAs, only 9.3% of the land is covered by PAs that are well connected, which indicates that the spatial arrangement of PAs is only partially successful in ensuring the connectivity of protected lands.
The situation is better in the EU, where, not least thanks to the EU Nature Legislation, some ecoregions already meet the international PA connectivity target, although important progress still needs to be made in several large ecoregions in the EU.
The scientists highlight the importance of effective conservation management for PAs, so that they can play their full role as stepping stones or corridors between other PAs as quantified by the indicator. They conclude that, in most of the world, further efforts should focus much more on reinforcing the connectivity of PA systems than on simply increasing the amount of land covered by PAs.
The detailed results of the ProtConn indicator are available from the Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA) of the JRC.