CNH-Ex: The Influence of the Size of Protected Areas on Their Ecological and Economic Effectiveness

Protected areas such as national and state parks and nature reserves play a vital role in biological conservation. They also strongly affect human societies because they entail economic costs and confer social benefits through recreation and provision of natural resources. While numerous studies have focused on how to design reserves to best conserve species and natural habitats, little research has been done to offer guidance on how to design reserves to best minimize costs and maximize benefits to local residents or to society more broadly. This project will investigate how reserve design can affect both the natural system within a reserve and the human system outside it, and how these effects can interact to determine the net benefits of reserves to conservation and society. The research focuses on one of the most basic and variable aspects of reserve design, reserve size; and on protected areas in the deciduous forests of the central and southern Appalachians, an area of high biological diversity and extensive human use. On the social side, the project will combine econometric analyses of land acquisitions with analyses of the conservation goals of particular land deals and the management plans put in place to achieve them. On the biological side, researchers will combine GIS analysis of land cover changes within and around protected areas with ecological field surveys. Overall, the project will examine how the costs of delivering improvements in the ecological objectives of protected areas respond to their size.

This project is specifically intended to help policy makers and land managers increase the economic efficiency and ecological effectiveness of protected areas. The research will be done in close collaboration with The Natural Conservancy, the largest non-governmental land trust in the U.S. Partnership with this and other managerial organizations will serve to disseminate results widely, and the project will provide partners with management tools including geodatabases and endowment calculators. The project will also enhance the scientific workforce by training a postdoctoral researcher, two Ph.D. students, and undergraduate students, and by establishing a new, interdisciplinary collaboration between young scientist early in their careers.