Research Article 006. Golden-Kroner, et al. 2016. Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park (USA), 1864 – 2014. Ecology and Society 21(3):22.

Rachel E. Golden Kroner, Roopa Krithivasan, and Michael B. Mascia

Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) has been documented worldwide, but its impacts on biodiversity are poorly understood. To fill this knowledge gap, we reviewed historical documents to identify legal changes that altered the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. We identified two downsizes and five additions between 1905 and 1937 that reduced the size of Yosemite National Park by 30%. To examine the effects of these downsizing events on habitat fragmentation by roads, we compared protected, never-protected, and downsized lands at three spatial scales using four habitat fragmentation metrics: road density, fragment (land surrounded by roads) area-to-perimeter ratio, fragment area, and fragment density. In general, lands that were removed from protection, e.g., downsized, were more highly fragmented than protected lands and indistinguishable from never-protected lands. Lands where downsizes were reversed were less fragmented than lands where downsizes were not reversed. These results suggest that protected area downsizing may exacerbate habitat fragmentation, a key contributor to biodiversity loss globally. Furthermore, the case study in Yosemite National Park demonstrates that iconic protected areas in developed countries are not immune to downsizing. These findings underscore the need to account for PADDD and governance histories in ecological research, monitoring, and evaluation. As we move toward more evidence-based conservation policy, a rigorous understanding of PADDD is essential to ensure that protected areas fulfill their promise as a strategy for conserving global biodiversity.