National parks systems development


The World Parks Congress in Bali in 1982 had set a target to set aside 10 percent of the world?s terrestrial landmass as protected areas, but it did not indicate which lands. For the majority of the more than 175 countries that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity it is unknown what their ecosystems and species are and where they occur. Only through extremely efficient selection of spaces to systems of truly protected areas can a significant proportion of the species of the earth be given a chance to survive.  Efficiency of selection becomes even more important, when we realise that many species in protected areas will still perish as a result of natural ecological processes taking place in protected areas that will/have become islands of nature in a human-dominated world. In addition to such processes, some anthropogenic influences cannot be stopped at the boundaries of protected areas.  Most and for all, climatic change will take a heavy toll, even in the best-managed protected areas.  The more species we can select to protected areas systems, the more species will have a chance to weather out the storm of ecological destruction that is currently devastating this planet?s biodiversity. The conservation of the world?s biological heritage in a human-dominated world is a scientific challenge on a par with cracking the genetic code or sending humans to the moon. It requires the collaboration of all sectors of society and a great variety of disciplines, but most and for all, ecological science. If the ecological foundations of conservation are ignored, then all other efforts are likely to fail.


Based on concept development and experimentation since 1992, ?Comprehensive Protected Areas System Synthesis and Monitoring? has been developed by a task force of renowned experts in all the primary fields required to bring together both the theoretical background and the institutional experience for such ambitious goal. Their report came out as an IUCN publication as a contribution to the Vth World Parks Congress, in Durban, South Africa. It provides a holistic method and a toolbox for the rational design of protected areas systems that maximise species conservation through targeted selection, based on broadly accepted ecological principles. The identification is based on appropriate technology computer programmes and techniques that allow the user to identify and map biodiversity using ecological surrogates to spatially distinguish species assemblages. A monitoring programme with additional tools and manuals, builds on the initial selection as a baseline, while it gradually furthers the biological knowledge of protected areas on the basis of relevant field observations. A protected areas costing module, can help policy makers, planners and managers with the complex process of raising and distributing the finances needed to operate the protected areas systems. You can download the full report: Comprehensive Protected Areas System Composition and Management.


Species-Area Curve

An important part of organized species selection to protected areas is based on the "Species-Area Curve". 


This spreadsheet on species-area curve variables allows you to see what percentage of species of an ecosystem may be conserved with varying z values of the species - area curve. More information is available in the main report.


For a long time, ecosystem mapping has been possible from aerial photographs, and this was applied in some parts of Africa, in Belize and in Western Europe on a moderate scale. Interpretation was slow and the photographs were expensive and national sets were often incomplete. As a result, the maps of natural vegetation covered only few parts of the world. It was not until the 1990s that satellite images had become effectively available to a broader gremium of scientists and biologists. Some of the first detailed mapping applications with remotely sensed imagery for the tropics was the pioneering work by Iremonger in 1993, 1994 and 1997. These were important advances as they facilitated much faster and more cost-effective mapping, particularly after the LANDSAT 7 imagery became available for less than US $500 per image in the year 2000 and are currently free. GIS software had also become more broadly available which can now be operated from regular desktop computers.


The World Bank/Netherlands Government/CCAD financed the production of an ecosystem-map, spanning more than 1500 km from Belize to Panama: the ?Map of the Ecosystems of Central America and Mapa de Ecosistemas de Am?ica Central?. Ecosystems were mapped by more than 20 scientists using the ?Tentative Physiognomic-Ecological Classification of Plant Formations of the Earth?, developed under the auspices of the UNESCO, complemented with additional aquatic ecosystems and some floristic modifiers. The term ecosystems maps was used, because it was argued that areas with distinct physiognomic and ecological characteristics would not only have partially distinct sets of floristic elements, but also partially distinct sets of fauna and fungi elements. It was demonstrated that ecosystems derived from such criteria could be identified in considerable detail and in a short period, using satellite images and teams of experienced national biologists. This opened the way to worldwide detailed identification and localisation of ecosystems and related species assemblages by proxy. Never before had it been possible to generate geographically unbiased data. Prior top this method, all existing databases ? even in developed countries - were and still are heavily biased by road-access, research facilities and site-choice by researchers. The new methodology facilitated for the first time distinguishing and mapping partially distinct assemblages of species, rapidly, in considerable detail from recent datasets (satellite images) reflecting current situations and without aforementioned factors of bias. These ecosystem maps finally make it possible to carry out unbiased gap/presence analysis.


MICOSYS is the oldest and most widely used comprehensive protected areas system analysis tool. important evaluation and weighting factors include area size, ecosystems, species of special concern, endemic species, flag species, socio-economic factors, like ecotourism, watershed use, habitation, land-ownership, etc. It weights each individual areas based on a scoring system and it generates investment and recurrent costs estimates, staff requirements and infrastructural requirements. This file has been loaded with the data of Honduras to give a realistic case sample. Areas and data may be replaced with information of any country of the world.


The Honduran part of that map was used to evaluate the presence and gaps of ecosystem representation in the protected areas system, SINAPH, of Honduras. An MS-Excel based spreadsheet evaluation programme called ?MICOSYS? was used to compare the relative importance of each area and to design alternative models for protected areas system for different scenarios of conservation security and socio-economic benefits. To achieve this, very specific criteria are needed that allow differentiation of size requirements for protected areas depending on a variety of factors such as Minimum Viable Population (MVPs) and Minimum Area requirements (MARs), functionality for both terrestrial and aquatic species of animals, plants and fungi, as well as ecosystem characteristics. Solid ecological principles, enriched with some new considerations on species survival have been integrated into a holistic approach that allows the synthesis of comprehensive rational protected areas systems. New concepts are presented on the minimum required sizes of protected areas, in which not merely top predators were considered as limiting factors, but ecosystems. As far as the SLOSS (Single Large Or Several Small reserves) debate is concerned, it is clear that we will need SLASS: Some Large And Several Small reserves, the latter complementing ecosystems absent in the large areas protected areas. The method not only generates differentiation in importance of the protected areas on the basis of socio-economic and ecological factors, but it also calculates estimates of investment needs and recurrent costs. I originally developed the concept in 1992 for Costa Rica, but it is country-size independent and may be applied anywhere in the world. It is very flexible and may be complemented with other methods, particularly the Important Bird Areas of Birdlife International (which is heavily biased by birdwatcher preferences) and the Rapid Assessment and Prioritisation of Protected Area Management (RAPPAM) Methodology of the WWF (which is heavily biased by "consensus building rather than hard data). The cost calculations in MICOSYS are of strategic importance. Governments all over the world have made great progress in institutionalising protected areas. But it was only a first necessary step. Adequate funding has not yet come along to meet the requirements. A realistic idea about costs is necessary to work toward finding solutions to the financing problem.


One of the by-products of the Map of the Ecosystems of Central America is an MS-Access-based database called Ecosystems Monitoring Database, for the storage of ecological field information, consisting of tracking information to support physical physiognomic and floristic information. The database has been expanded to also store information on fauna as well as essential information on the use of natural resources and visitation within an area, thus creating a tool for protected area or ecosystem monitoring. The Honduran Forest Service tried to implement the monitoring, but it was found to be too time consuming and made a smaller paper form that could be filled out by rangers. The entire monitoring exercise was carried out during the WB-GEF financing, but stopped entirely after the donor financing ended. An important lesson learned was that monitoring is a means of data collecting, but is less important than effective area management by rangers.


In 2005, the Inter American Biological Network (IABIN) and the Organization of American States (OAS) commissioned the development of a protected areas monitoring methodology to the World Institute for Conservation and Environment (WICE). It was meant to gather basic data for the The World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for Latin America. Un fortunately the participation of the WDPA never materialized. I was later informed that the WDPA is underfinanced and that its data may be inaccurate, depending on the data provided by each country.

The Honduras Case Study

This page presents the full Honduras case study with all the report files.

Glosario de T?minos de Biodiversidad

Glosario de t?minos Es un dictionario de casi 6000 t?minos en l?ea escrito por Dr. Maarten Kappelle (2004) con financiamiento de la Cooperaci? Espa?l y publicado en l?ea por INBio de Costa Rica. (Spanish only). El enlace del documento en INBio ya no existe, pero sigue en mi depositorio de documentos.