Understanding protected area resilience: A multi-scale, social-ecological approach

Graeme S. Cumming, Craig R. Allen, Natalie C. Ban, Duan Biggs, Harry C. Biggs, David H M Cumming, Alta De Vos, Graham Epstein, Michel Etienne, Kristine Maciejewski, Raphaë L. Mathevet, Christine Moore, Mateja Nenadovic, Michael Schoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

180 Scopus citations


Protected areas (PAs) remain central to the conservation of biodiversity. Classical PAs were conceived as areas that would be set aside to maintain a natural state with minimal human influence. However, global environmental change and growing cross-scale anthropogenic influences mean that PAs can no longer be thought of as ecological islands that function independently of the broader social-ecological system in which they are located. For PAs to be resilient (and to contribute to broader social-ecological resilience), they must be able to adapt to changing social and ecological conditions over time in a way that supports the long-term persistence of populations, communities, and ecosystems of conservation concern. We extend Ostrom's social-ecological systems framework to consider the long-term persistence of PAs, as a form of land use embedded in social-ecological systems, with important crossscale feedbacks. Most notably, we highlight the cross-scale influences and feedbacks on PAs that exist from the local to the global scale, contextualizing PAs within multi-scale socialecological functional landscapes. Such functional landscapes are integral to understand and manage individual PAs for long-term sustainability. We illustrate our conceptual contribution with three case studies that highlight cross-scale feedbacks and social-ecological interactions in the functioning of PAs and in relation to regional resilience. Our analysis suggests that while ecological, economic, and social processes are often directly relevant to PAs at finer scales, at broader scales, the dominant processes that shape and alter PA resilience are primarily social and economic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-319
Number of pages21
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Biosphere reserve
  • Conservation
  • Cross-scale
  • National park
  • Nature reserve
  • Protected areas
  • Resilience
  • Social-ecological system
  • Socioecological system
  • Spatial resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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