Protection Reduces Loss of Natural Land-Cover at Sites of Conservation Importance across Africa

<div><p>There is an emerging consensus that protected areas are key in reducing adverse land-cover change, but their efficacy remains difficult to quantify. Many previous assessments of protected area effectiveness have compared changes between sets of protected and unprotected sites that differ systematically in other potentially confounding respects (e.g. altitude, accessibility), have considered only forest loss or changes at single sites, or have analysed changes derived from land-cover data of low spatial resolution. We assessed the effectiveness of protection in reducing land-cover change in Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across Africa using a dedicated visual interpretation of higher resolution satellite imagery. We compared rates of change in natural land-cover over a c. 20-year period from around 1990 at a large number of points across 45 protected IBAs to those from 48 unprotected IBAs. A matching algorithm was used to select sample points to control for potentially confounding differences between protected and unprotected IBAs. The rate of loss of natural land-cover at sample points within protected IBAs was just 42% of that at matched points in unprotected IBAs. Conversion was especially marked in forests, but protection reduced rates of forest loss by a similar relative amount. Rates of conversion increased from the centre to the edges of both protected and unprotected IBAs, but rates of loss in 20-km buffer zones surrounding protected IBAs and unprotected IBAs were similar, with no evidence of displacement of conversion from within protected areas to their immediate surrounds (leakage).</p></div>