Protected areas are now the last strongholds for many imperiled mammal species

Michela Pacifici, Moreno Di Marco, James Watson

Top 20 species of mammals threatened by range reduction. The figure highlights species with the highest percentage range contraction since 1970s. Red circles represent species for which protected areas represent the last bastions (> 50% range is protected). Blue circles show species with very high rates of range decline, and relatively small portions of the current distribution protected (< 50%). In each big circle, percentage values at the top indicate range loss, while those at the bottom represent the amount of range currently protected. Protected areas are represented in green. Small dots represent the centroid of the range of the other species in the original sample. A full species list of the top 20 mammals threatened by range reduction (big circles) is provided in Table S1

The global network of terrestrial protected areas (PAs) has experienced a fourfold expansion since the 1970s. Yet, there is increasing debate around the role of the global PA estate in covering and sustaining threatened species, with serious ramifications for current PA financing and the setting of post‐2020 global conservation targets. By comparing “past” (1970s) and current distribution range of 237 mammals, and measuring the proportion of range covered by PAs in the past and in the present, we show that a small number of PAs have now become the last bastions of hope for ensuring the persistence of many mammal species. For 187 species (∼79% of those analyzed) the proportion of range covered by PAs has doubled over the time period, with 10% of all species now having most of their current range protected. This increase in proportional protection over time is largely due to a retreat of species distribution (outside existing PAs) and, in smaller part, to PA expansion. It is clear that adequately resourcing those PAs critical in sustaining mammal species is now essential, to avert a worldwide rapid mammal loss.

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