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Current models broadly neglect specific needs of biodiversity conservation in protected areas under climate change

Mungla Sieck1*, Pierre L Ibisch2, Kirk A Moloney3 and Florian Jeltsch1

Author Affiliations

1 Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, University of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 3, D-14469 Potsdam, Germany

2 Faculty of Forest and Environment, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (Univ. Appl. Sciences), Alfred-Möller-Str. 1, D-16225 Eberswalde, Germany

3 Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, 253 Bessy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames IA 50011-1020, USA

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BMC Ecology 2011, 11:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-12

Published: 3 May 2011



Protected areas are the most common and important instrument for the conservation of biological diversity and are called for under the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity. Growing human population densities, intensified land-use, invasive species and increasing habitat fragmentation threaten ecosystems worldwide and protected areas are often the only refuge for endangered species. Climate change is posing an additional threat that may also impact ecosystems currently under protection. Therefore, it is of crucial importance to include the potential impact of climate change when designing future nature conservation strategies and implementing protected area management. This approach would go beyond reactive crisis management and, by necessity, would include anticipatory risk assessments. One avenue for doing so is being provided by simulation models that take advantage of the increase in computing capacity and performance that has occurred over the last two decades.

Here we review the literature to determine the state-of-the-art in modeling terrestrial protected areas under climate change, with the aim of evaluating and detecting trends and gaps in the current approaches being employed, as well as to provide a useful overview and guidelines for future research.


Most studies apply statistical, bioclimatic envelope models and focus primarily on plant species as compared to other taxa. Very few studies utilize a mechanistic, process-based approach and none examine biotic interactions like predation and competition. Important factors like land-use, habitat fragmentation, invasion and dispersal are rarely incorporated, restricting the informative value of the resulting predictions considerably.


The general impression that emerges is that biodiversity conservation in protected areas could benefit from the application of modern modeling approaches to a greater extent than is currently reflected in the scientific literature. It is particularly true that existing models have been underutilized in testing different management options under climate change. Based on these findings we suggest a strategic framework for more effectively incorporating the impact of climate change in models exploring the effectiveness of protected areas.