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Ben Thornes

Protected areas facilitate species range expansions

Wednesday 16th July 2014

The benefits of protected areas (PAs) for biodiversity have been questioned in the context of climate change because PAs are static, whereas the distributions of species are dynamic. Current PAs may, however, continue to be important if they provide suitable locations for species to colonise at their leading-edge range boundaries, thereby enabling spread into new regions.

In this paper, the authors present an empirical assessment of the role of PAs as targets for colonisation during recent range expansions. Records from intensive surveys revealed that seven bird and butterfly species have colonised PAs 4.2 (median) times more frequently than expected from the availability of PAs in the landscapes colonised. Records of an additional 256 invertebrate species with less-intensive surveys supported these findings and showed that 98% of species are disproportionately associated with PAs in newly colonised parts of their ranges. Although colonising species favor PAs in general, species vary greatly in their reliance on PAs, reflecting differences in the dependence of individual species on particular habitats and other conditions that are available only in PAs. These findings highlight the importance of current PAs for facilitating range expansions and show that a small subset of the landscape receives a high proportion of colonisations by range-expanding species.

Read the full article as published in PNAS, here.

Find out more about the author Dr Phillipa Gillingham, here.

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