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US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities

Clinton N. Jenkins, Kyle S. Van Houtan, Stuart L. Pimm, Joseph O. Sexton



Significance. The United States has one of the oldest and most sophisticated systems of protected areas in the world. Given the large amount of information on the country’s biodiversity, and the potential resources available, one might expect it to do well in protecting biodiversity. We find that it does not. The United States protected areas do not adequately cover the country’s unique species. To improve the coverage, we map priorities for multiple taxa and recommend specific areas for immediate conservation attention. These areas contain a mix of public and private land, meaning that major progress in conservation will require actions in both the public and private sectors, and will succeed only if done in the correct areas.

Abstract. Because habitat loss is the main cause of extinction, where and how much society chooses to protect is vital for saving species. The United States is well positioned economically and politically to pursue habitat conservation should it be a societal goal. We assessed the US protected area portfolio with respect to biodiversity in the country. New synthesis maps for terrestrial vertebrates, freshwater fish, and trees permit comparison with protected areas to identify priorities for future conservation investment. Although the total area protected is substantial, its geographic configuration is nearly the opposite of patterns of endemism within the country. Most protected lands are in the West, whereas the vulnerable species are largely in the Southeast. Private land protections are significant, but they are not concentrated where the priorities are. To adequately protect the nation’s unique biodiversity, we recommend specific areas deserving additional protection, some of them including public lands, but many others requiring private investment.


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 112, No. 16. (21 April 2015), pp. 5081-5086, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1418034112 
Key: INRMM:13583688

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