Research Article 004. Symes, et al. 2016. Why do we lose protected areas? Factors influencing PADDD in the tropics and subtropics. Global Change Biology 22.2: 656-665

William S Symes, Madhu Rao, Michael B Mascia, L Roman Carrasco

Protected areas (PAs) are an essential tool for the conservation of biodiversity globally. Previous studies have focussed on the effectiveness of PAs and the design of optimal PA networks. However, not all PAs remain intact permanently; many PAs undergo downgrading, downsizing and/or degazettement (PADDD), a fact largely ignored until recently. The drivers of enacted PADDD events and the factors influencing its spatial occurrence are poorly understood, potentially undermining the efficacy of PAs and PA networks. Here we examine the spatial relationship between PADDD and economic, demographic and structural variables, using a 110-year data set of 342 enacted PADDD events across 44 countries in the tropics and subtropics. We find that the probability of an enacted PADDD event increases with the size of the PA and through a synergistic interaction between PA size and local population densities. Our results are robust to the under-reporting of enacted PADDD events that occur among smaller PAs and in regions with lower population density. We find an economic motive for PADDD events, given that the opportunity costs associated with larger PAs are higher, on average, than smaller PAs. Our findings suggest a need for conservation practitioners to better consider PA characteristics, as well as the social, economic and political context in which PAs are situated, to aid the creation of more efficient and sustainable PA networks. In particular, the dynamics of enacted PADDD events highlight the need to explicitly consider PA robustness as a core component of systematic conservation planning for PA networks.