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When conservationists decide to create a protected area to conserve biodiversity, they need to decide where to put it. This decision is more complicated than it may seem: it needs to take into account multiple parameters such as the distribution of species in the landscape, the level of threat to species, the available budget, and the human cost -- in terms of foregone opportunities -- of protecting the area.
The dominant approach to this problem today, called systematic conservation planning, makes elaborate calculations to find out where to conserve the most biodiversity for the least investment. While this approach is efficient at managing complex data, it has been criticized for ignoring social factors. That can be a problem: for example, a protected area might be under high pressure from local populations, making it less likely to be respected. Or people might be forced to move their livelihood activities, such as hunting, to other areas, increasing pressure there.
In a new paper in Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, Takuya Iwamura (Tel Aviv University), Michael Mascia (Conservation International), and I argue that land system science can help systematic conservation planning overcome these issues. It can do so, we contend, by contributing three main insights: the understanding and modeling of landscapes as dynamic systems incorporating anthropogenic drivers of change; the incorporation of social context; and the understanding of human agency in the face of changing opportunities.
Integrating insights from land system science into systematic conservation planning will bolster the legitimacy of new protected areas, and increase their chances of being enforced. This is a necessary first step for systematic conservation planning to reinvent itself as a decision-support tool that helps to reconcile landscape‐level species persistence with social needs.