Downsizing protected areas intensifies landscape fragmentation and potential biodiversity loss

Study assesses impacts of draft law proposing a reduction of a large protected area in southern Brazil, finding greater fragmentation and increased risk to threatened species

Araucaria angustifolia
Paraná pine (EN) (Araucaria angustifolia (Bertol.) Kuntze) observed in Campo Largo, PR, Brazil by Carlos Ferreira (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The present study aimed to expose the damage that misguided policies may have on conservation actions. It assessed the impacts of a draft law that proposed to downsize the Devonian Escarpment Environmental Protection Area (DEEPA). This site in southern Brazil's Paraná state features Atlantic Forest and Brazilian Savanna (Cerrado) biomes, two highly diverse landscapes rich in endemic species and under intense pressure from human-made impacts.

The authors showed that approval of the proposed legislation would reduce the area currently protected within DEEPA by more than 68 per cent. For remnants of natural vegetation within the area, only 36 per cent would remain under protection, while the average distance between protected fragments would increase by 27 per cent.

By leveraging GBIF-mediated occurrences in their analysis of the region, the authors found that the proposed downsizing would reduce species protection by 70 per cent. Among species classified as threatened, the proposed reduction would eliminate protection for 51 species currently classified as threatened under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, of which one is Critically Endangered (CR), 19 Endangered (EN) and 31 Vulnerable (VU).

The authors conclude the case under study shows that when misaligned with national and global environmental goals, economic development may contradict sustainable development, leading to increased carbon emissions, greater loss of biodiversity and diminished ecosystem services.

Conceição EO, Garcia JM, Alves GHZ, Delanira-Santos D, Corbetta D de F, Betiol TCC, Pacifico R, Romagnolo MB, Batista-Silva VF, Bailly D, Ferreira JHD and do Couto EV (2022) The impact of downsizing protected areas: How a misguided policy may enhance landscape fragmentation and biodiversity loss. Land Use Policy. Elsevier BV 112: 105835. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2021.105835