Land cover change is a global multi-scale process affecting ecosystems, with potential implications for ecological processes and for the biological communities that support them. Land cover changes are especially relevant for protected areas where long-term ecosystem stability is a critical aspect of protecting and maintaining high levels of biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
To understand the extent of land cover change impact on global ecosystem stability of protected areas across time and space.
Here we analysed 23 years of global spatial and temporal distribution of land cover change its occurrence within protected areas. We investigated whether higher land cover change rates occurred inside or outside protected areas, identified the main type of changes, and their distribution by UN region.
Our results show that from 1992 to 2015, 4.89% of the world’s land surface changed from one land cover to another, with 97.9% of this change persisting until the end of the time period. We found that regions with higher land cover change, tend to have a higher incidence of change close to protected areas, suggesting a spillover effect on these areas. Also, the proportion of change inside and outside protected areas varied considerably across UN Regions.
Our results suggest that to reach current global conservation targets, it is not enough to increase the targets of protected area coverage. Instead, governments and conservation management agencies should account for regional specificities, and pay attention to the territories surrounding protected areas to develop strategies to reduce spillover effects.