Efficient expansion of global protected areas requires simultaneous planning for species and ecosystems
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)'s strategic plan advocates the use of environmental surrogates, such as ecosystems, as a basis for planning where new protected areas should be placed. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of this ecosystem-based planning approach to adequately capture threatened species in protected area networks is unknown. We tested the application of this approach in Australia according to the nation's CBD-inspired goals for expansion of the national protected area system. We set targets for ecosystems (10% of the extent of each ecosystem) and threatened species (variable extents based on persistence requirements for each species) and then measured the total land area required and opportunity cost of meeting those targets independently, sequentially and simultaneously. We discover that an ecosystem-based approach will not ensure the adequate representation of threatened species in protected areas. Planning simultaneously for species and ecosystem targets delivered the most efficient outcomes for both sets of targets, while planning first for ecosystems and then filling the gaps to meet species targets was the most inefficient conservation strategy. Our analysis highlights the pitfalls of pursuing goals for species and ecosystems non-cooperatively and has significant implications for nations aiming to meet their CBD mandated protected area obligations.