Estimating the effect of protected lands on the development and conservation of their surroundings

Robert I. McDonald, Chris Yuan-Farrell, Charles Fievet, Matthias Moeller, Peter Kareiva, David Foster, Ted Gragson, Ann Kinzig, Lauren Kuby, Charles Redman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The fate of private lands is widely seen as key to the fate of biodiversity in much of the world. Organizations that work to protect biodiversity on private lands often hope that conservation actions on one piece of land will leverage the actions of surrounding landowners. Few researchers have, however, examined whether protected lands do in fact encourage land conservation nearby or how protected lands affect development in the surrounding landscape. Using spatiotemporal data sets on land cover and land protection for three sites (western North Carolina, central Massachusetts, and central Arizona), we examined whether the existence of a protected area correlates with an increased rate of nearby land conservation or a decreased rate of nearby land development. At all sites, newly protected conservation areas tended to cluster close to preexisting protected areas. This may imply that the geography of contemporary conservation actions is influenced by past decisions on land protection, often made for reasons far removed from concerns about biodiversity. On the other hand, we found no evidence that proximity to protected areas correlates with a reduced rate of nearby land development. Indeed, on two of our three sites the development rate was significantly greater in regions with more protected land. This suggests that each conservation action should be justified and valued largely for what is protected on the targeted land, without much hope of broader conservation leverage effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1526-1536
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • AgTrans
  • Agricultural abandonment
  • Agricultural landscape in transitions
  • Conservation easements
  • Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory
  • Deforestation
  • Fee simple
  • Harvard Forest
  • Land conversion
  • Urban and exurban development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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