Protected areas are one of the most important tools in modern conservation, with over 100,000 sites covering about 12% of the planet. Historically, the placement of protected areas has been driven more by a lack of potential for economic development in an area than its contribution to conservation goals. For example, we have recently shown that Australia’s protected area network is rather inefficient at capturing the distributions of threatened species (Watson et al. 2011), but appears to be effective in arresting declines of those species it does cover (Taylor et al. 2011).
We have been studying the future role of protected areas in modern conservation, including an analysis published in the journal Nature showing that we could do much better for conservation if we reversed the protection status of some of the least cost-effective sites and used the resulting capital to establish and manage new protected areas(Fuller et al. 2010).
Other current work includes a prioritisation of Mexico’s tropical cloud forests (Rocio Ponce-Reyes), and an investigation of regional, continental and global performance of protected area networks (Lissa Barr).